Storylines In Review

 

This site looks at popular storylines, covered in our various feature pages linked to the blog posts below.  
 2017 Blog Posts
On the 'Midwinter Crisis' Storyline, #5
-The Quiet Christmas Crisis

The week-long Xmas break offers a quiet space, a winter-weather lock-in, as we might call it, a time for contemplation, thinking and reading. It’s an aspect to Xmas week which doesn’t get much covered in fiction and drama as it’s so inherently peaceful and, well, undramatic. We don’t even have a standard word for this, which is no doubt why the German word Gemuetlichkeit (the root means ‘cosy’, covering ‘a feeling of cosiness, contentedness, comfort and relaxation’ or ‘a happy, warm and peaceful time’), has wound up in the OED. The poets can provide a quote or two here, and the one I like is from James Thomson’s 1728 The Seasons: “An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books.” (I would add a fire in the hearth, and perhaps Radio 3 on in the background for company.)

Of course there are a number of psychological or social hurdles that have to be dealt with. Well-meaning friends may insist ‘You shouldn’t be alone at Xmas.’ They seem to have an image of quiet desperation based on Bridget Jones's Diary, as shown at right.

Top right: In Bridget Jones's Diary [2001] adapted by Andrew Davies, director Richard Curtis, and author Helen Fielding from her novel, the diarist-heroine is again alone over Xmas, a lone 'singleton' surrounded by smugly paired-up friends.

The social pressure not to be alone at Xmas also inspired a famous episode of the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley, shown on Xmas Day 1996, “The Christmas Lunch Incident,” written by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer. Here, the vicar’s village-parish councillors are determined she shall not spend Xmas Day alone, and she feels obliged to accept four xmas-lunch invitations to avoid offence, eating one gut-busting meal after another.
Right – The Vicar of Dibley: traditional English Xmas dinner, in its full horror – sprouts, blancmange etc.

'The most successful Christmas film of all time', Home Alone [1990], written by producer John Hughes, has its young protagonist wishing that his family would disappear over Xmas, and getting his wish. Of course, he isn't left alone - or there would be no story.
The story setup where the protagonist is looking forward to a quiet Xmas only for his life to be intruded upon is one I can readily relate to. In Susan Slept Here (1954), written by Alex Gottlieb and Steve Fisher from their play, a Hollywood screenwriter gets landed with a fractious underage juvenile delinquent nobody else wants over Xmas. In The Thin Man (1934), adapted by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich from the Dashiell Hammett novel, a retired and happily-married ex-PI has a series of interested parties show up at his hotel to try to involve him in a missing-person case.

 



Above: Susan Slept Here (1954), and right, The Thin Man (1934)
On the 'Midwinter Crisis' Storyline, #6
-The Xmas Holidays Filmfest, 1946-2016 
TV has always broadcast films over Xmas, but the nature of the schedule has changed over the years so that what was once a special event (as in the term 'event film') became overwhelmed by proliferation of scale. Since at least the 1970s in America, there’s been a whole strand of made-for-tv-xmas movies, usually produced for the Hallmark Channel, which end happily, with family members hugging in front of the Xmas tree. (Unsurprising as Hallmark made their money from greeting cards sales.) This is the leave-you-feeling-good romantic approach to the xmas-crisis story, where problems are only temporary, resolved by the end of Xmas break. Hallmark are not the only channel running Xmas dramas from around Hallowe’en on. ‘Xmas creepback’ means that the Xmas ‘holiday viewing’ season now begins in late October, as the screenshot below of a 6-hour slot on 2 adjacent channels [taken October 24th] shows.
 
Above: TV Guide UK screenshot excerpt showing a pair of channels with wall-to-wall Xmas-themed dramas ... in late October. (Only one is not Xmas-set: Canopy, a WWII-set wilderness-survival film promoting humanitarian values, and thus suitable for this slot.)
Below: Another screenshot of two 6-hour blocs of wall-to-wall Xmas movies.
Seventy years ago when tv was just becoming established, Xmas films were in short supply. The cinema industry seeing television as a rival, refused at first to license tv rights to their film libraries. By restricting it to b&w and live studio programming with filmed inserts, it limited tv's appeal.
I've seen a claim the BBC only showed one feature film (or at least one prestige 'A' picture) a year, broadcast after the Queen's Speech, as a special event. (This finds an echo in The Vicar of Dibley 1996 Xmas special illustrated above, where she was actually looking forward to a quiet Xmas Day at home, watching the Queen’s Xmas Message and then Jurassic Park.) However, the tv schedules have been archived online so we can check, and see the situation was never quite that clearcut.
When the BBC resumed broadcasting at war's end, there were almost no films to be had, due to the cinema exhibitors' boycott. The number of Xmas films was zero in 1946; one in 1947 [The Young In Heart (1938) starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr]; two in 1948 [both B-westerns]; three in 1949, and so on. It is hard to find a prestige 'A' picture in these early schedules, since the flm packages obtained via the US secondary market of 16mm prints were mainly prewar B pictures. Christmas Day 1951’s film was Wallaby Jim Of The Islands (1937) and next year’s was Swiss Miss (1938) starring Laurel and Hardy, both B-length with musical numbers and nonsensical plots. The number increased with the advent of commercial competition from 1955 on. (ITV was a patchwork of regional franchises debuting at different times, Granada TV being first.)
When ITV arrived on the scene, they ran prewar US studio pictures throughout the year. These were mainly ‘B’ films but as they had purchased a large library from WB et al as a job lot, this included a few A pictures as well. However as ITV grew into a national network, it began to show Xmas ‘event’ A pictures. The Maltese Falcon [1941] starring Humphrey Bogart was shown late on Christmas Day 1958, and The Macomber Affair [1947] (from the Hemingway story) with Gregory Peck on Christmas Day 1959 in one region [ATV], while another [Granada] ran The Charge Of The Light Brigade starring Errol Flynn, with a 5-minute break for the News at 10.45pm. ATV also ran the 1935 comedy The Ghost Goes West starring Robert Donat on Sunday 27th December 1959 at 3.25pm under their ‘Film Festival’ banner. (Apparently, showing features allowed the studio staff to have Xmas off, apart from a telecine operator.)
The earliest major films I can find on the BBC are Stagecoach (1939), shown Xmas Eve 1956, and It’s A Wonderful Life, shown Xmas Eve 1957. The afternoon of Xmas Day 1957 saw Mrs Mike (1947) starring Dick Powell as a Mountie (from a fact-based Canadian pioneer-story bestseller of the day) and the evening of Boxing Day, the 1947 boxing classic Body And Soul starring John Garfield. There were also several films in RKO's Astaire-Rogers series, with Top Hat (1935) becoming the BBC' first official "Christmas special" film in 1958, and next year, Swing Time (1936). Xmas Day 1959’s evening film was High Noon. It must have seemed the BBC would have paid extra for this, but it turns out it was just part of a 16mm-prints resale package, of UA films. The RKO package was 100 films.
By the mid-1960s, US networks were also providing made-for-xmas-tv movies to add to the studio backlists now routinely sold off for tv showing when their theatrical run was over. This was the start of the mass proliferation of Xmas-film showings, ending with the current total of around 4,500 films in the 2016 Xmastime bumper edition of the TV guide. (This doesn't include the made-for-Xmas-tv films that now start running in late October.)
While the 'prestige' pictures mentioned above do not have a xmas setting or theme, they generally espoused a romantic idealism of outlook due to the studios' own production code. Nowadays the volume of films shown means the list is simply a huge grab-bag, including films arguably unsuitable for a xmas slot, such as violent thrillers shown on Xmas Eve. And with so many of these being repeats year-on-year there is a sort of 'Groundhog-Day effect' whereby you feel you're reliving the same moments over and over as you rewatch the same films.

 

On the 'Midwinter Crisis' Storyline, #7
-The Xmas Blues, Or The Bah-Humbug Effect
The enforced cheer and noisy filmic distractions of the festive season can make you depressed, a reaction I call the Bah-Humbug Effect. All around, there's the usual travel chaos with traffic jams, public transport strikes left and right, not to mention colds, flu and norovirus. Emergency wards overflow with victims of traffic accidents, family quarrels and domestic incidents, pub punchups, nervous breakdowns and unsuccessful suicides. Some of this depression may be attributed to the winter-blues condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, the aptly titled SAD. It's easy to see how attractive it becomes to spend Xmas week escaping a depressing present though the distraction of an endless array of films and tv programmes. But there must be a limit to how much escapism one can take in a week. The scale of it is mind-numbing.
Few of these films seem to address the fact of midwinter depression or crisis with any depth: the schedules are dominated by made-for-tv Xmas films where domestic problems that go back years are set up only to be resolved Xmas morning with hugs all round.
And these are about the only films that are actually about the midwinter break. The bought-in films mentioned above, from High Noon to Jurassic Park, are nothing to do with Xmas, and in these days of on-demand access, can be viewed anytime. The one film on the list in the above post which did at least contemplate the dark side, It's A Wonderful Life, starts like its inspiration, A Christmas Carol, on Xmas Eve but ends happily the next morning. The 'dark night of the soul' here is a catharsis, an overnight spiritual learning experience.
'A sad tale's best for winter' says the king in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, but in film and tv, this idea has had to fight an onslaught of relentless, determinedly escapist Xmas cheer. This may not be anything new, since his play and Xmas-pageant plays that came before it, like Sir Gawaine And The Green Knight, have happy endings. (Shakespeare at least has his Winter's Tale story setting segue into spring before turning it into a pastoral romance with happy ending.) This inherent dark underside to midwinter, its traditional association with themes of death, depression, or loss, is represented in literature and even popular songs [see opposite] but is often ignored or played down in film and tv.


Even some of the popular Xmas songs have a hidden dark side. Irving Berlin, who wrote 'White Christmas', had a 3-week old son who died on Christmas Day 1928, and he spent every Xmas visiting the infant's grave - hence the melancholy nature of the song. Even the more ostensibly upbeat 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' was inspired by songwriter James "Haven" Gillespie's memories of his mother’s warnings to be good if he wanted rewards as Santa would be coming - memories prompted by the fact he was in debt and his brother had just died.
BBC Worldwide created controversy 2 years ago for releasing a 'Christmas suicide' compilation CD, called An Alternative Christmas. It had song titles like Slashed Wrists This Christmas, That Was The Worst Christmas Ever, A Very Sorry Christmas, and Yule Shoot Your Eye Out. (The last appears a reference to Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story, where the young protagonist asking for a BB gun for Xmas is repeatedly told. "You'll shoot your eye out.".) Perhaps these should be labelled 'Xmas SAD songs' after the winter-blues condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

On the 'Midwinter Crisis' Storyline, #8
-The Midwinter Walkabout 

It may be that winter sadness etc is regarded as too interior for the film medium, but a prospect for opening-out the drama's physical setting to include wintry landscapes is found in the 'midwinter walkabout' idea. There's an association here going back to Good King Wenceslaus heading out into the snow Dec 26th to see how his subjects were faring. Dec 26th was a church holiday, St Stephen’s Day, commemorating the first Christian martyr, referred to in the Xmas carol “Good King Wenceslas looked out / On the Feast of Stephen”. This is based on the legend the sainted 10C Bohemian nobleman was out and about incognito that day to give alms to paupers. Later, the landed gentry would similarly go about the parish distributing boxes of clothing etc to the poor, hence Boxing Day.
Though not celebrated in the US, Boxing Day is a statutory holiday in Europe and Commonwealth countries. Deriving from the landed-gentry noblesse-oblige practice of giving one’s servants, and perhaps the local poor-house families, xmas-aid boxes, it is also a day for calling around to friends and neighbours to wish them Merry Xmas. These days, Boxing Day is also when store sales are popular because (it's cynically claimed) people are so desperate to get out the house and get away from their families after the enforced togetherness of Xmas Day at home.
One musical expression of this outward impulse, dating from the Romantic Movement ans broadcast on BBC Radio 3 nearly every Xmas, is Schubert’s 1828 song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey), described as 'the most famous romantic song cycle ever written' (based on poems by Wilhelm Müller - selection of 5 songs with English lyrics here, if you're interested.) Scholars who have studied the lyrics to the 24 songs have described the cycle as an enigmatic expression of loneliness and despair, with imagery based on the sights and sounds of a wintry landscape as the singer wanders alone through it on his long solitary trek, perhaps after the collapse of a love affair.
In literature, there is a major midwinter-walkabout setpiece in The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger, soon (as they say in the trade) 'to be a major motion picture'. The author, who suffered from post- WW2 PTSD and became a Zen Buddhist recluse, always refused Hollywood offers, regarding his 1951 novel as unfilmable, especially in the studio era where complexity was shoehorned into a conventional vision. (As his protagonist Holden puts it at the outset, “If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me.” Later, he outlines an example in detail, which seems to be Random Harvest.) But since he died in 2010, there has been talk of his literary estate authorising a film version, possibly directed by Terrence Malick or Leonardo diCaprio.
A tour de force exercise in character voice, it became a vox pop vehicle for disenchanted youth. Holden, a 16-year-old who has been kicked out of his prep-school, has a nervous breakdown during the Xmas break and is now recuperating in a rest home after his midwinter walkabout. He tells us he only wants to recount the few days he spent over Xmas break. (“I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas.”) He plans 2 days in New York before returning to this family home for the Xmas holidays, but suffers a breakdown. He becomes distressed for example, while visiting Central Park lake, over what happens to the ducks when the pond is frozen. Whether or not this is indeed filmable remains to be seen.
Generally, protagonists who go on a walkabout are older than Holden, but one exception is the teenage protagonist of the award-winning 2013 Polish drama Ida, [see right] written by director Pawel Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz.



Above: the award-winning 2013 Polish drama Ida, written by director Pawel Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. It is set in Communist Poland in 1962, and one can argue the wintry dead landscape is a metaphor for the political grip the country is held in. The 17-year-old novice nun Anna/ Ida is told to go out and find her last living relative before taking her vows, and discovers some dark secrets about her family.

On the 'Midwinter Crisis' Storyline, #9:
- O Come All Ye Fearful: The Xmas Ghost Story Tradition

One form of expression of the dark side of midwinter which has translated well to film and tv is the 'Xmas ghost story'. This is a tradition that must date back to humans living in caves, and has a pedigree in world literature as well as folklore. The work that kickstarted cinematic adaptation was of course Dickens's 1843 A Christmas Carol. Many subsequent tales are not set specifically around midwinter, but this one is locked firmly into a Christmas setting. Indeed, it's claimed Dickens brought back Xmas traditions after they had nearly died out, due to first Puritanism and secondly population displacement in the Industrial Revolution.
An article in the Smithsonian Magazine [Dec 2016]," Why Do People Tell Ghost Stories on Christmas?", concludes: "As Dickens wrote, the ghosts of Christmas are really the past, present and future, swirling around us in the dead of the year. They're a reminder that we're all haunted, all the time, by good ghosts and bad, and that they all have something to tell us." This is both an ancient idea, going back to ancestor worship with its tutelary spirits, and a more modern one, reflecting the increased self-awareness of the post-Enlightenment eras. Ghosts are not really part of Christian lore, but in fiction at least can make the fearful worry about their place in heaven, for these are not 'ordinary' hauntings attached to places, but visitors with a message for the individual concerned, evoking issues of Christian charity and repentance.
Dickens popularised the idea of the 'Xmas Visitant', the instructive ghost. Here, each of the 4 ghosts in turn acts as a spiritual guide or messenger, starting with the ghost of his dead partner Jacob Marley. "I wear the chain I forged in life," Jacob Marley says. (Alec Guinness actually got a double hernia from the heavy chains he had to wear as Marley's Ghost in the 1970 film version.) With its provocative Christian-irony title, this was originally a contemporary-set Xmas ‘message’ work for a society entering the Industrial Revolution.
The novella [e-text here] remains the basis for countless stage adaptations, both musical and not, sometimes under different names. (I saw one such live, non-musical stage adaptation, a rather dark version by Theatre West titled Humbug, appropriately enough on a bitterly cold night early one January). And then there are the film and tv adaptations [list here]. Some 162 screen versions 1901 - 2015 of Scrooge / A Christmas Carol are listed on IMDB.
Since at least 1950 it has been a perennial in terms of Xmas tv scheduling. Looking through the tv-guide archival site for those first ‘Xmas-premiere’ films, I found that before this, BBC practice was to put on a play televised ‘live’ (no video recording back then), and the 1950 Christmas Day choice was “9.00pm A Christmas Carol, a play”.
The story is too familiar to need further explanation here, but its significance to western culture can scarcely be overemphasised. It was a work that actually redefined Christmas, even popularising the phrase ‘Merry Xmas.’ It bridged the gap between the vicar’s pious sermons, the relict pagan symbolism of Yuletide, and the secular traditions of feasting with a vision of humanist concern for the welfare of others. As he said in his Preface, “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea…”
Dickens’s novella began the trend for the then-new mass-market magazines to publish a ghost story for Xmas so that the form first reached a mass market, though more often as short stories than serialised novellas. (Dickens himself wrote a followup novella, The Chimes, set at New Year, but it was not popular and never filmed.) With the work of M.R. James, regarded as the master of this form (with stories such as A Warning To The Curious), it would springboard into Xmas tv with the BBC presenting an annual 'ghost story for Xmas,' mostly based on his stories. Though written as 'Christmas entertainments' for his students, details of these need not concern us here as they are not set around Xmas.
The only genre work of this vintage (1900s) with a tangible midwinter setting seems to be Conan Doyle's The Hound Of The Baskervilles, which uses foggy, boggy Dartmoor to help evoke fears of a vengeful 'spectral' hound. Set in the autumn in the early 1890s, Doyle originally conceived it as what he called a straight 'Victorian creeper’ without Holmes; in its finished form it was serialised over the entire winter of 1901-02. The BBC telefilm centenary version, written by Allan Cubitt, which premiered on BBC1 on Boxing Day 2002, is explicitly set Xmas week, with a Xmas-pageant scene featuring a wooden snapping-hound figure (representing the legendary version of the hound), and the modern version (a CGI creation) slain on Xmas Day. The seasonal conditions here seem more authentic, with driving rain on misty hillsides (it was shot on the Isle of Man) rather than the usual soundstage with static artificial fog.




On the 'Midwinter Crisis' Storyline, #10:
-'Dead Time' ... The Dead Of Winter

I have a careerist-workaholic friend who grumpily dismisses the Xmas break as ‘dead time’, when you can’t get anything done for one reason or another, and there’s nothing on tv except repeats etc. It occurred to me this is a useful label, for this week in the 'dead of winter' - remembering the dead of one’s own acquaintance.
This would include vicarious acquaintances who are familiar names and faces through film and tv. Alan Ayckbourn's play Season's Greetings [BBC-TV 1986] opens with 2 characters watching the sort of vintage film they put on Xmas, and their running commentary on the actors onscreen is along the lines of, "He’s dead." "So's that one." "She’s dead too." It's natural enough, noting the passing of familiar faces, but here we're interested in writers, where it's names rather than faces that are familiar. Every year just before NY's, newspapers publish annual obituary-roundups with the names of those who died during the year just ending, listed by profession, including writers.
A 2016 newspaper-roundup list includes: Richard Adams [Watership Down]; Edward Albee [Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?]; ER Braithwaite [To Sir, With Love]; Anita Brookner [Hotel du Lac]; Pat Conroy [Prince Of Tides]; Umberto Eco [The Name Of The Rose]; Margaret Forster [Georgy Girl]; Earl Hamner Jr [The Waltons]; Michael Herr [Full Metal Jacket]; Barry Hines [Kes]; Jim Harrison [Legends Of The Fall]; Sir Antony Jay [Yes Minister]; Harper Lee [To Kill A Mockingbird]; Jimmy Perry [Dad's Army]; Peter Shaffer [Amadeus]; Robert Banks Stewart [Bergerac]; Tony Warren [Coronation Street].

Remembering the dead in midwinter would become a part of Xmas lore in fiction and drama set in midwinter, starting with Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It is of interest to hear Dickens's own views on this. He had lost his daughter and his father, plus a sister and her son, and his 1851 essay ‘What Christmas Is As We Grow Older’ encourages us to see this time of year as one to remember both ‘the living and the dead’. Here’s the concluding para:

The winter sun goes down over town and village; on the sea it makes a rosy path, as if the Sacred tread were fresh upon the water. A few more moments, and it sinks, and night comes on, and lights begin to sparkle in the prospect. On the hill-side beyond the shapelessly-diffused town, and in the quiet keeping of the trees that gird the village-steeple, remembrances are cut in stone, planted in common flowers, growing in grass, entwined with lowly brambles around many a mound of earth. In town and village, there are doors and windows closed against the weather, there are flaming logs heaped high, there are joyful faces, there is healthy music of voices. Be all ungentleness and harm excluded from the temples of the Household Gods, but be those remembrances admitted with tender encouragement! They are of the time and all its comforting and peaceful reassurances; and of the history that re-united even upon earth the living and the dead; and of the broad beneficence and goodness that too many men have tried to tear to narrow shreds.

The phrase ‘the living and the dead’ occurs as the final line in James Joyce’s 1907 novella The Dead, filmed by John Huston in 1986 (his last film), which also deals with this theme. As a group of family and friends gather for their annual getogether on Epiphany Eve in early January, the protagonist discovers his wife is still stricken with regret over a young man who died a 'romantic' death wooing her, as compared to the rest of their ageing peer group, who are just slowly fading away -

One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live. Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.


Midwinter is a natural time for mourning the dead.
Above - In Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows [2010], scripted by Steve Kloves, Harry and Hermione go to see the graves of his parents on Xmas Eve, in a snow-covered graveyard in a West Country village.


Dickens's theme in A Christmas Carol was in part a memento mori. Scrooge is initially in what we would call today a state of denial. But he is forcibly reminded of his own impending fate by the chained-up ghost of his late, like-minded materialistic partner, Marley. [Still from the 1938 version]


In the pivotal scene of Sleepless In Seattle [1993], written by its director Nora Ephron, a widower goes on a radio phone-in show on Xmas Eve to talk about how he still mourns his wife, who died of cancer over a year before.


Above - James Joyce’s The Dead, filmed in 1987: midwinter as a time some people bring out their dead memories. Prompted by a song, Gabriel’s wife is overwhelmed by the memory of the long-dead lover of her youth.

You can see the last few minutes of the John Huston film version, from a script by his son Tony, which expands the above scene, with a documentary montage of snow falling on the Irish countryside accompanying the text [left] as a voice-over monologue, here.

On the 'Midwinter Crisis' Storyline, #11:
-New Year's Eve, That's A Date

Here, the seasonal crisis likely to beset the protagonist is the imminent prospect of New Year's Eve alone, and special arrangements may hence be put in place to ensure this does not occur.
The use of New Year's Eve as a special time for a romantic rendezvous may go back to the peer-group stigma and sense of unpopularity if you don’t have a date for New Year’s Eve - or at least get a phone call from a potential partner if he or she is away. The latter scenario is more dramatic as it implies a future commitment. Often, the couple meet in the summer on holiday and agree to rendezvous in 6 months time [ie in midwinter] if they want to pursue the relationship beyond a holiday romance. Needless to say, complications ensue with this long-distance midwinter rendezvous arrangement.
In the event a protagonist has to spend New Year's Eve alone, it would seem an ideal flashback framework for remembrance of a now-ended relationship, but it's difficult to give a particular example of this in film which is specifically set on NYE.

Most of the setups involve getogethers, such as the NY's weekend reunion of college friends at an English country house in Peter's Friends [1992], written by Rita Rudner and Martin Bergman. In When Harry Met Sally [1989], written by Nora Ephron, a NYE party provides the impetus for the pair to finally get together as more than friends.

(A personal anecdote - When I was at university, the landlady at my B&B was a widow with young children, who told me how she would wait for a call every NY's eve from an army officer she liked. He had been posted elsewhere but would phone every year at midnight, to keep their relationship alive. She was already at her wits end trying to raise two problem children by herself, and told me, in tears, that if he didn’t phone, she didn’t think she could go on. I cite this anecdote to show how, in real-world terms, NY's eve can be an emotional touchstone occasion for potential partners kept apart by circumstance.)

The 'Before' trilogy, written by director Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Kim Krizan, must set a record for this lovers'-rendezvous being stretched out - here, the uncertainty lasts years. In the first film, Before Sunrise [1995], the lovers spend a summer night in Vienna and at the last minute when parting at the station promise to meet up in 6 months, in December, if still interested. Viewers actually had to wait 9 years for the 2004 sequel, Before Sunset, to discover the outcome, and - as this also had an 'open' ending - yet another 9 years to discover (with the 2013 Before Midnight, set in Greece) if their reunion, in Paris, shown in the 2nd film, had actually turned into a permanent relationship.


In Sunset Boulevard [1950], written by director Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr., when the protagonist escapes being a kept man in an ageing silent-movie star’s Hollywood mansion for the evening to visit friends, leaving her alone on New Year’s Eve, she attempts suicide.

 

The problem of spending NY's alone as you get old due to partners and friends having died is satirised in Dinner For One [1963] written by British author Lauri Wyli, which is broadcast in Germany [cf screenshot above] every New Year's Eve. (Various versions exist on YouTube.) It's actually a 1920s English-music-hall sketch also known as The 90th Birthday. The old lady having her 90th party lives in a world of illusion, abetted by her loyal old butler - to say more would spoil its charm.

In An Affair To Remember [1957], scripted by Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart and director Leo McCarey from his previously-filmed 1938 story, the lovers meet on a summer cruise, and arrange to meet atop the Empire State Building at New Year's if they feel they want a permanent relationship. A complication ensues which gets the film classed as a 'weepie', though the story ends with a reunion the following Xmas Eve.

The emotional alienation that can lie behind raucous NY's Eve celebrations is captured in The Apartment (1960), written by I.A.L. Diamond with director Billy Wilder, where an office worker is invited out on a date and then propositioned by her philandering boss, in a New York bar where the lights are dimmed as patrons sing Auld Lang Syne (YouTube clip here).

In Sleepless In Seattle [1993], the female protagonist proposes a rendezvous, inspired by seeing An Affair To Remember, atop the Empire State Building. In this case the geographically-separate duo's planned meetup is postponed to Valentine's Day in mid-Feb as the pair only make first contact at Xmas.

Indiscreet [1958]: This adaptation by Norman Krasna from his play Kind Sir has its climax at midnight on New Year's Eve. After a happy Xmas, the lovers' planned NY's Eve rendezvous at her London flat goes pear-shaped over a misunderstanding about marital intentions.
On the 'Midwinter Crisis' Storyline, #12:
-Twelfth (& Final) Night
 
Twelfth Night, originally the eve of Epiphany, the day when the 3 wise men visited the baby Jesus, has changed its meaning over the centuries. Initially a Catholic holiday, by Shakespeare's time it had become an occasion for a Roman-style Saturnalia, with cross-gender dressing etc. His comic play [screen versions listed here] about identity-swap complications is not necessarily set on Twelfth Night; its title simply indicates it is suitable for performance then. (The 2016 BBC tv comedy series, Upstart Crow, scripted by Ben Elton, has Will presenting an early draft called Eighth Night.) The practice of putting on 'Twelfth Night Entertainments' may have been a factor in establishing the popularity of the Xmas pantomime.
The occasion was generally more important when Christmas was less so. Dickens has the Ghost of Christmas Present taking Scrooge to see a children's Twelfth Night party. It also retained aspects of Xmas going back to the time when the changeover from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar meant annual festivals in effect being moved forward by 11 days, so that before 1752 in England this was also ‘Old Xmas.’ (It retains this status on some Orthodox calendars.) It was traditionally the end of the Xmas break, at least for those who have not already returned to work and hence the last chance for a party or getogether.

 

 

Above: The Dead [1987], set at Epiphany. The party's over after this.
Its being historically superseded is probably why few modern scripts use it as the basis of a personal crisis, despite the inspiring example of Joyce's The Dead [filmed 1987], set in Catholic Ireland c1900. Ordinary working folk of course have already had to return to work Jan 2nd, so it doesn't have the same resonance of being part of what Americans call the "Xmas vacation."
However it still has its own identity, and can certainly be depressing - now it's the day on the calendar when you take down the Xmas tinsel, and perhaps contemplate the gloomy dog days ahead, of winter's end. (Not to mention, if you're self-employed, contemplating pulling out a year's paperwork to start doing your annual accounts, so you can file your tax return due Jan 31.)
It should also be the day you draw up your NY’s Resolutions, such as never ever watching another episode of TV crime procedural series like CSI. (I'd started watching a few years back, after the producers said they'd love to do a UK version, a 'CSI Bournemouth', and put together a webpage on why this might work.) Doing one's NY’s Resolutions is where Bridget Jones's Diary begins, after she returns to London after that disastrous New Year's Day party at her parents.
I think my NY’s Resolution here will be to spend less time overall watching tv and switching more to other more focussed means of doing the necessary research for this website, using on-demand methods such as DVDs and online viewing.
... Anyway, this is the end of our "Twelve Days of Christmas Crisis" series of 12 blog posts. The feature pages now online re the 'Midwinter-Crisis' storyline are listed on its home page, here.
 
 Blue Sky Viewing
-While some like the idea of 'blue sky thinking', at this grey time of year I prefer 'blue sky viewing.'

After a dozen blog posts on the 12 days of Xmas [etc] crisis, I’m now feeling rather greyed out. The tail end of winter is always a grey, depressing time of year, waiting for the first sunny days to allow more outdoors activities, and I often turn to some ‘blue sky viewing’ for consolation. In theory, this could be any film set outdoors under blue skies, but the easiest type to find, the commonest, is some Technicolor western shot under blue skies in the American southwest.
At the start of the 1950s, the advent of the lighter, more portable new single-strip Eastmancolor replaced the older 3-strip Technicolor cameras and facilitated main-unit filming on remote locations. Studios abandoned the older 2-colour processes like Trucolor, and switched to Eastmancolor or monopack versions branded with their own name, so we also had Warnercolor, Metrocolor etc. Anscocolor, owned by Agfa, was another single-strip monopack process - though the latter tended to greenish-blue skies. And to put the new rival medium of tv in the shade, so to speak, films were also shot from 1953 onward in CinemaScope (starting with The Command) as well as, briefly, in 3-D (Escape From Fort Bravo - pictured above right).

‘Cavalry westerns’ were a staple of this cycle of colour westerns. The progenitor was likely the 1949 Technicolor production She Wore A Yellow Ribbon [right], whose painterly look [it was an 'autumnal western' and not all blue skies] was modelled on the works of Remington and Russell. It was part of the so-called cavalry trilogy directed by John Ford and based on the stories of James Warner Bellah. (The other two were shot in b&w, with the cinematographer on the first, Fort Apache, shooting partly on infrared stock to make it look hot and dusty.) Films about the US Cavalry outposts in the Southwest continued to be a favourite right through the 50s and early 60s. Perhaps it was those royal blue (and impossibly clean) uniforms with their yellow trimmings that made them so picturesque.

The ‘cavalry western’ cycle died out in the mid-60s, probably because of America’s developing identity crisis amidst the Vietnam War. A well-worn story cycle often ends with a descent into self-parody (as with Airplane! and the ‘airliner in peril’ story), and the cavalry western I watched this winter was the storyline’s major spoof, made at the end of the cycle, complete with mock historical narration. Appropriately, winter is also a theme in the story setup, in the sense it provides the characters' motivations.
In the mid-Sixties, Hollywood's continuing search for material to feed the fad for the 70mm roadshow (i.e. with intermission) format led them to attempt a few 'epic' comedies (A Mad Mad Mad Mad World and The Russians Are Coming being two other examples) as well as a series of overproduced musicals following The Sound Of Music. The 1965 comedy western The Hallelujah Trail is an ‘epic comedy’ western about a trek to lay in a town whiskey supply, prompted by a predicted long hard winter. (Locals notice horses and dogs are growing unusually shaggy pelts etc.) What had been originally developed as a routine western comedy-drama of the Burt Kennedy Support-Your-Local-Sheriff type was, after The Sound Of Music, turned into a 165-minute mock-western-epic shot in Ultra 70mm Panavision for showing in Cinerama theatres.
It’s also almost a musical, with several leitmotif-style songs for the various forces in play, wrapped up in another foot-tapping Elmer Bernstein score. (Director John Sturges, who made Escape From Fort Bravo, had worked with Bernstein on The Magnificent 7 and The Great Escape.) The songs sung by a 40-strong mixed chorus represent the main opposing forces - the miners' Denver Free Militia, and the Temperance Women; unlike in the John Ford films, the cavalry don't ride out the fort singing, but they do get a rhythmic orchestral theme.

We also get mock-epic intermittent narration which treats the story as a little-known episode in authentic US frontier history (which it isn't). This begins with a scene-setting prologue that spoofs earlier epic westerns like How The West Was Won (it was advertised as 'How The West Was Fun'), written in a mock-pretentious style that strains at Walt Whitman-esque gravitas:
The land at first. Mountains thrust forth from the molten darkness of the Earth. Mountain and valley. The Virgin West! High plateau, and red rock of sandstone. Wilderness west! Prairie land, rolling on and on to the end of sight. O pioneer West! What fervent dreams lay half-buried in this land of promise ....
Spoken, uncredited, by John Dehner, who plays the outpost's loyal sergeant, this solemn mock-epic narration is used throughout, though it soon starts to trip over itself. At one point the narrator becomes self-conscious, as he gets sidetracked into dubious claims the Plains Indians somehow copied the use of smoke signals from the Greeks and Hebrews. These passages are mainly heard over animated maps showing the various forces converging; but when they do finally collide, amidst a sandstorm, the positions are given ("the miners were – erm, here, while the cavalry were – um, here") over shots not of the map but just of blowing sand. Fade-out to Intermission, after which the film becomes less amusing with drunken Indians, runaway wagons, ending up in quicksand, before a narrated epilogue saying the winter ironically turned out to be one of the mildest on record.

Being set in the fall, the film includes a few scenes shot under gathering autumn clouds, but generally it looks like the many 50s westerns shot in Arizona, Utah or New Mexico. At the box office, the film itself met something of the same fate as the whiskey wagons - in this case the quicksand it ran into was that of mid-Sixties changing public taste. As the film's narrator might put it, O tempora, O mores! (The times they were a-changing, and all that.)
I'm not sure how much or litle of what comic touch the film does have is from the source novel The Hallelujah Train [sic], as it's long out of print. This was by Bill Gulick, a western writer who once put an ad in Variety saying the only thing Hollywood had used of another novel of his were the first 3 words of the title - when his Bend Of The Snake became Bend Of The River with James Stewart in 1952. Its screenwriter Borden Chase said Gulick should have kept quiet to see if it was a hit - which it was, first of a series of James Stewart / Anthony Mann westerns.
The film's lyricist, country'n western songwriter (plus arranger and guitarist) Ernie Sheldon (1930-), who the same year wrote the song lyrics for the Pakula-Mulligan film Baby the Rain Must Fall, deserves credit but doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, though he had a long career (IMDB listing here). As the All-Music Guide put it: "Hallelujah Trail is one of the most rousing choral works to come out of movies in the 1960s, mixing the devout and the coarse, the romantic and the profane, with some surprisingly good, clever lyrics by Ernie Sheldon."
At least screenwriter John Gay (1924–2017), who died this winter too late to include in my obit roundup, has now got his own Wikipedia page. (Earlier, the film's Wikipedia page link led to the 18C playwright who wrote The Beggar's Opera!)
I suspect the satiric Whitmanesque narration is down to him - he probably felt this elephantine comedy needed such a framework. His credits are too long to go into here [IMDB list here], but as the President of the Writers Guild of America West put it, "John Gay epitomizes what it means to be a great writer and a great member of the Guild."

 

These cavalry westerns are examples of the 'outpost command crisis' storyline, and we now have the homepage up for this storyline:
The 'Outpost Command Crisis' Storyline| Introductory Page

It's a storyline with a considerable back-history that developed well before the postwar cavalry westerns came along (going back to European 'outposts of Empire' Foreign Legion etc works), and Part One of our historical-review feature page is also now onsite, here:
The Outpost Command Crisis | InterTitle Historical Review Pt 1

 





Above: The Men In Blue - Hollywood Cavalry uniforms, as seen in Pillars Of The Sky (1956)



 

 

'Something lost ... and waiting for you. Go!'
-The Expeditionary Storyline
Of course, when spring does finally arrive, so does the urge to get out of doors. For most of us, this is usually just one's neighbourhood or a little beyond (as with the urge that overtakes Mole at the start of The Wind In The Willows). But with a few, the urge to explore is so extreme it takes over their lives, and sometimes ends them prematurely. They hear the call as expressed by Kipling in his poem “The Explorer”:
…. one everlasting Whisper, day and night repeated—so: 'Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges—'Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go.'” —

This lost realm might be in the depths of the jungle, as in the recent The Lost City Of Z, on Colonel's Fawcett's doomed quest to find a lost civilisation in the Amazon. Or it might be at the very ends of the earth, in the polar reaches, a destination dramatised in a series of films since the silent era. Recently [Dec 2016], the British Film Institute put on an exhibition about the history of polar exploration, and published online a tiein listing of the 10 most interesting films to watch. However, apart from a few non-expeditionary films about the Inuit, these are mostly vintage documentaries and dramas concerning the early-20th C race to the poles.
Amazingly, after several Shackleton biopics, there is yet another in the works, financed by StudioCanal with Peter Straughan writing the script. And actor-filmmaker Christopher Brand is said to be developing a screenplay about the Admiral Byrd 1946-7 expedition, called Highjump after the USN operational name. This was the massive invasion of Antarctic waters by a US fleet, which led to speculation they were investigating rumours that fleeing Nazis had set up a base down there, as well as about some dramatic discovery made on a transpolar flight by Byrd being kept secret. (A warm-water oasis was discovered and filmed in 1947.)
Another tale of an expedition to the Antarctic making sensational discoveries (of an alien race), HP Lovecraft's 1931 cult horror novella At The Mountains of Madness, followed in the wake of Richard E. Byrd's first expedition in 1928-30. This and his second, post-WW2 large-scale expedition gave rise to rumours still alive on the web, of tropical valleys and encounters with hostile Lovecraftian alien hybrids being officially covered up. The novella is written as a first-person expeditionary account, left as a warning to any later expedition to stay away from the Antarctic mountains where an ancient alien race has built an underground city, and in the process unleashed an unspeakable terror in the form of helper creatures who regard humans as specimens. Though long considered unfilmable, it was to be filmed by director Guillermo del Toro, but reportedly fell into the crevasse of development hell when he insisted on making it an "R"-rated horror. Given the success of 3 successively gory film versions [1951-2011] of The Thing, this seems a mere excuse, and it may be we will still see a film of Lovecraft's masterpiece (text now in the public domain, here).

Polar settings aside, upcoming or announced are an HBO Lewis And Clark miniseries, produced by Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton et al from historian Stephen Ambrose's book Undaunted Courage; this was first planned a decade ago, then abandoned last year in mid-production when the director quit; it has been reworked with a Michelle Ashford script for a 2018 release. Out this year is Jungle, scripted by Justin Monjo from Yossi Ghinsberg's 1993 memoir, a fact-based drama of a trio of backpackers trying to find a gold mine in the Bolivian jungle is abandoned by its guide, with no idea how to get back to civilisation. Slated for release sometime later this year is the post-apocalyptic drama Annihilation, scripted by director Alex Garland from Jeff VanderMeer's novel, wherein "A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don't apply." (?) And beside the recent Kong: Skull Island, there's an unrelated contemporary-set live-action TV series called King Kong Skull Island, being written by Jonathan Penner and Stacy Title from a concept by Joe DeVito, who worked with the Merian C. Cooper family on it back in the 1990s, though it's not clear how much of it will be an expeditionary story. Trailers for Jurassic Park IV: The Return suggest that the protagonists from JP1, JP2, and JP3 will get back together at the funeral of the Park's creator and some will return to the islands for one last expedition. Spielberg is also producing Prisoners Of The Sun, completing his Tintin trilogy made using 3-D motion-capture. This will be the 3rd filming of this Tintin adventure, written by Belgian artist Herge in the 1940s, about an expedition to find a surviving Inca enclave in the Andes.

Lost cities are of course a common setup in the expeditionary storyline, and although Fawcett never found his sought-after lost city of "Z", such centres did exist. Modern aerial and ground surveys have shown that many Amazonian townships may have existed, just as the early conquistadores reported, before climate change forced their abandonment.
For explorers, lost cities are an exciting idea, if they await discovery; but dramatically there has to be some worthwhile purpose for the protagonists to seek it out, and rarely is this simple discovery - usually untold wealth awaits, in the form of gold or diamonds, but dreams of avarice divide the group, with the protagonists putting other values above material wealth. The cities can also be difficult to portray onscreen convincingly, unless an authentic ruin can be used, as in the 1957 Legend Of The Lost, pictured right, which used a UNESCO site, Leptis Magna on the Libyan coast, to portray a mid-Saharan 'lost city'.

While some cities can lie almost buried, overgrown in the jungle, many others lie in the remote deserts of North Africa and the Mid-East, where the dry air preserves them. Today, these ancient desert ruins are much in the news, due to their being targeted for destruction by ISIL. The recent Queen Of The Desert written by director Werner Herzog based on the life of Gertrude Bell has not had a wide release, but the real Gertrude Bell certainly visited and mapped ruins in Mesopotamia (where she met T. E. Lawrence). An announced biopic of Lady Hester Stanhope scripted by David Seidler based on a biography by Kirsten Ellis to be produced by The King's Speech film-makers seems not to have been green-lit (perhaps because its biography title Star Of The Morning was abandoned in favour of the whimsical The Lady Who Went Too Far). It would be of interest here as Lady Hester Stanhope was the first Western woman to enter the Syrian city of Palmyra, once ruled by Queen Zenobia and now a World Heritage site, but badly damaged by ISIL during its occupation.
... All this is by way of noting that the "expeditionary" story, which may seem old-fashioned, is still very much alive, and our intro page is now onsite:
The Expeditionary Storyline| Introductory Page
as well as our A-Z listing of titles:
The Expeditionary Storyline | Titles A-Z Page
Needless to say, views of great interest abound in these listed productions, with lost cities aplenty.

 

 








 

 

Dunkirk x 3
A new film about the May 1940 evacuation combines three storylines - the ‘castaways-survival’ storyline, the ‘fateful flight’ storyline, and the ‘decisive’ battle storyline.
 
Historical films about epic battles don't come along that often, because of their inherent huge costs, but we now have one that features three distinct storylines. Dunkirk (2017), written by its English-American director, Christopher Nolan, is told from three participant perspectives, representing land, sea and air. Of course, it’s not unusual for these dramatic-reconstruction-of-events films to show events converging from various viewpoints, and the previous two namesake dramatisations [1958, 2004] of this May 1940 historical crisis were told this way.
But this new 3rd version famously intercuts events happening in three different timescales, indicated by an onscreen title: an hour, a day, and a week. [1] A pair of soldiers spend days stranded on the beach awaiting rescue; [2] a small-boat owner spends the day sailing across the channel to pick up soldiers, and [3] a Spitfire flight patrols overhead to provide air cover, with only an hour’s worth of fuel and flying time. And whereas the 1958 Dunkirk originally ran well over 2 hours (US prints were cut by 20 mins) and the BBC 2004 Dunkirk runs 3 hours, this one is only 106 minutes. (The final script is said to be only 76pp, which, at the standard conversion rate of 1 page = 1 minute, would normally suggest only 76 minutes of screen action, the other 30 minutes being in effect a slowing-down of time for dramatic impact.) I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently there is no attempt, as in previous versions, to provide the usual “HQ” type scenes which explain the overall situation from a military and political viewpoint, nor any of the usual scenes showing the protagonists before the main event, eg at home on leave, and dialogue is minimalist overall. However, there is a starring role, played by Kenneth Branagh, for the RN Commander assigned as Pier Master at Dunkirk, who is able to communicate the situation more effectively both ways.
Of the three storylines, the ‘castaways-survival’ storyline seems to be the dominant one, and this often involves scenes from the rescuers’ perspective being intercut, until the two sides finally meet up. (The 2017 trailers have the intertitles "When 400,000 Men Couldn't Get Home... Home Came For Them.") This setup is inherent in the May 1940 situation; the role of the naval forces including the 'little ships' flotilla is well recognised (some say overemphasised), whereas the RAF’s perceived failure to protect the beach-head from enemy bombers was a sore point, leading to RAF personnel being assaulted by returning soldiers or refused passage on evacuation boats. Here, at least part of the role RAF fighters did actually play is finally shown. It’s probably the film’s ‘fateful flight’ storyline that prompted the use of what the writer-director calls ‘different temporalities,’ as the action is self-limited to a single one-hour flight, ending in a crash-landing and the capture of the pilot. The issue could have been resolved by having the pilot fly the same air-cover mission on different days, as happened in reality, but I gather that would undercut the filmmaker’s determination to be ‘experimental’ [his word]. Others have pointed re the one-day little-ship-to-the-rescue storyline, that sailing between Weymouth and Dunkirk and back in a day is also unrealistic.
Leaving the ‘decisive’ battle storyline without the usual historical-exposition framework beyond an introductory scene-setting text and focusing on a handful of participants has led to critical attacks that the film can’t be taken seriously as it doesn’t make even token attempts to include women and ethnic minorities who were there (though in small numbers), or any Americans [!]. The filmmaker has made it clear in his publicity that the ‘decisive’ battle aspect was why the film was worth making, and distinguishes between a ‘decisive’ engagement from a purely military perspective and a wider human and historical one:
"This is an essential moment in the history of the Second World War. If this evacuation had not been a success, Great Britain would have been obliged to capitulate. And the whole world would have been lost, or would have known a different fate: the Germans would undoubtedly have conquered Europe, the U.S. would not have returned to war. It is a true point of rupture in war and in history of the world. A decisive moment. And the success of the evacuation allowed Churchill to impose the idea of a moral victory, which allowed him to galvanize his troops like civilians and to impose a spirit of resistance while the logic of this sequence should have been that of surrender. Militarily, it is a defeat; on the human plane, it is a colossal victory."
The film’s adline is ‘The event that shaped our world’ (which seems an overstatement, given other events of WW2). It reportedly ends with a voice-over visuals-montage as the two soldiers, now back in Blighty, read Churchill’s 'We shall fight on the beaches' speech in a newspaper on the train, though from the trailers, this is spoken not by Churchill or a voice impersonator but by Kenneth Branagh, who played the Pier Master.
The voice-over at the start or end to provide historical perspective is a standard scene in works dramatising the ‘decisive’ battle storyline, and the two previous namesake dramatisations each have one.
Just being reissued uncut in the US on a higher-quality disc, the 1958 Ealing film Dunkirk scripted by David Divine & W.P. Lipscomb, from the 1955 novel The Big Pickup by 'Elleston Trevor' [=Trevor Dudley Smith, 1920-95] and the nonfiction book Dunkirk by Lt. Col. Ewan Butler & Major J.S. Bradford, focuses on the castaway storyline as a left-behind infantry squad make their way to the beach (which we first see 84 minutes in), only to be stranded there with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force. This version ends with a voice-over scene, over a master shot of the now-deserted beach [see above right], saying the withdrawal was a great defeat and the rescue of a third of a million men a great miracle, whereby ‘a nation had been made whole’, i.e. ending earlier political ‘Phoney War’ divisions. This then segues, over the sound of boots tramping in unison, to a seriocomic parade-ground final scene of the two surviving soldier protagonists in a drill company being lectured by a sergeant major to stop acting ‘as if we had just won a war’ when the truth was we had ‘come darn near losing one’. The pair roll their eyes at each other as the company are marched off.
The 2004 BBC 3-part docudrama Dunkirk written by Neil McKay, Lisa Osborne and director Alex Holmes, which shows events from a variety of actual participant viewpoints over the entire 10-day period, ends with a double voice-over. First, series narrator Timothy Dalton explains how the rescued troops ‘were to be the core of the army for the next five years’; then we hear Churchill’s actual 'We shall fight on-' radio broadcast speech ending ‘We shall never surrender,’ over a montage of news footage of returning troops aboard trains, concluding with a colour newsreel shot from the train of what appears to be a glimpse of the promised 'sunlit uplands'. (The famous war-aim verbal image was from Churchill's next big speech, his "finest hour" one on June 18th: "What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over ... the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.")
Historically, the BEF evacuation did lead straight into the next phase after the Battle Of France, the Battle Of Britain, and a new namesake film, following the 1969 film Battle Of Britain, also currently titled Battle Of Britain, is now in the works, being directed by Ridley Scott from a Matthew Orton script. (The 1969 film scripted by James Kennaway and Wilfred Greatorex from the 1961 nonfiction book The Narrow Margin by Derek Dempster and Derek Wood also had a Battle Of France opening sequence, ending at Dunkirk with a BBC radio announcement quoting Churchill's June 18 speech: "... the Battle of France is over. The Battle Of Britain is about to begin." - Cut to main titles.) In the meantime, Darkest Hour (2017), set in May 1940 as Churchill takes over a divided coalition party as PM, and directed by Joe Wright (who had a Dunkirk-beach setpiece scene in his 2007 Atonement) from an Anthony McCarten script, will be in UK cinemas in December. (Not to be confused with the 1944-set Churchill, also out this year, scripted by Alex von Tunzelmann about how the PM, played by Brian Cox, supposedly tried to have the D-Day landings cancelled out of fear of another Gallipoli disaster.)




Above and below: screencaps from the 1958 Ealing film Dunkirk


Above and below: screencaps from the 3-part 2004 BBC docudrama Dunkirk, which mixed actuality footage [as above] with dramatic reenactments using actors (that's Benedict Cumberbatch below as Lt Jimmy Langley).

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Storylines In Review 2017