It Happened Here (1964)

Now this film is a rather interesting specimen. Conceived by two teenagers in the middle of the 1950’s, the central vision was an alternate history of England that depicts a scenario in which Nazi Germany invaded and successfully occupied the United Kingdom, and some Britons collaborate with their Nazi occupiers. Not only that, but the film itself would be presented as if it the events depicted had really happened. Dismissed in the time of its release, I think it was an interesting project. Not necessarily a great film but I certainly felt that it had its own merits as an unconventional pseudo-historical drama.

The film itself is set in around 1944-45, shortly after England had become occupied. Britain is apparently governed by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (though Mosley himself is never seen or depicted in the film), and the Americans have begun bombing the southwest coast, and providing aid to a new resistance movement in Britain. Meanwhile, an Irish nurse named Pauline is forcibly evacuated from her village to the demilitarised city of London, where she reluctantly collaborates with a regime as part of a paramilitary medical corps. The story progresses, however, she learns the true impact of Nazi occupation, and she finds that she is unable to back.

I found the premise to be rather interesting not only because it presents a version of history wherein the Nazi’s took over Britain, but also because of the idea that ordinary Britons were collaborating with them. It also plays with the idea of fascism as a disease of the mind, and that it can spring up anywhere in the minds of ordinary people, and that under the right circumstances it can flourish. Indeed, the film’s creators researched this while writing the film itself, and I believe they took inspiration from the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands for the scenario itself.

While the narrative might have been based on historical study and good research, it’s not really that exciting as a film. For starters, the characters aren’t really that engaging. I guess that has more to do with the older style of acting, but most of the time I don’t find myself engaged with the characters. I found myself more interested in the ways in which the characters in the film justified collaborating with the Nazis, which are scattered throughout the film. If anything, there are quite a few scenes in the film that more or less resemble Nazi propaganda films, and I think that was part of the idea.

Secondly, the audio is pretty bad, but the film’s style as a whole is incredibly realistic. The whole film was deliberately shot in black and white on 16mm film so as to give it a newsreel sort of feel in order to make it look like a piece of history, as opposed to speculative fiction. The level accuracy the film-makers aspired to is quite stunning, though it still often feels like an amateur production because of the deliberately low-quality visuals and audio.

It was as engaging a film as I was hoping it would be, but it is still a very thought-provoking film, with its exploration of the spread of totalitarian ideology in the hearts and minds of ordinary people. The ending may well have been a bit forced and inconclusive, but in spite of its weaknesses, I would say it’s a slightly above-average experiment in pseudo-documentary film-making.

  • Score: 67%
  • Grade: C
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