Brownlow's and Mollo's Nazi Britain
February 12, 2006 8:04 AM   Subscribe

"The German invasion of Britain took place in July 1940, after the British retreat from Dunkirk". We see, documentary-style, members of the Wehrmacht trooping past Big Ben and St Paul's Cathedral, lounging in the parks, having their jackboots shined by old cockneys, and appreciatively visiting the shrine of that good German, Prince Albert, in Kensington Gardens. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's film "It Happened Here", with its cast of hundreds (.pdf), imagines what a Nazi occupation might have been like — complete with underground resistance, civilian massacres, civil strife, torch-lit rallies, Jewish ghettos, and organized euthanasia. Shot on weekends, eight years in production, made for about $20,000 with nonactors and borrowed equipment and Stanley Kubrick's help, "It Happened Here" was originally envisioned by Brownlow as a sort of Hammer horror flick about a Nazi Britain. Thanks in part to Mollo's fanatical concern with historical accuracy, however, it became something else. The most remarkable thing about this account of everyday fascism is that it has no period footage. Brownlow's 1968 book about the film's production, "How It Happened Here", has recently been republished. More inside.
posted by matteo (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo worked together on another cult film: "Winstanley" (.pdf).

Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay here
posted by matteo at 8:08 AM on February 12, 2006

Thanks. I'm going to hunt a copy of this down now.
posted by Artw at 8:13 AM on February 12, 2006

We see, documentary-style, members of the Wehrmacht trooping past Big Ben and St Paul's Cathedral, lounging in the parks, having their jackboots shined by old cockneys, and appreciatively visiting the shrine of that good German, Prince Albert, in Kensington Gardens.

The attack failed when the German spearhead was stopped due to severe delays on the District and Circle Lines.

Excellent post matteo.
posted by three blind mice at 8:16 AM on February 12, 2006

from the "cast of hundreds" .pdf link above:
...controversy followed the film. In May 1965, The Observer printed an article about Jewish groups attacking the film; the protesters specifically objected to the scene in which the head of the current British National Socialist movement, Colin Jordan appeared. Brownlow and Mollo were devoted to creating a kind of documentary realism that would allow Nazis to speak and thus “condemn themselves out of their own mouths, with their bland talk of racial inferiority.” The Jewish groups argued that Jordan’s words “might be taken literally by an unsophisticated
audience.” The writer noted that “many people feel that the dispute is a sad and ironic comment on the film trade’s estimate of the public’s intelligence and sentiments.” Brownlow responded by saying that “the implicit anti-Nazi bias of the whole film is surely obvious.” However, in reaction, Arthur Krim and United Artists backed down and cut the seven minutes of controversial material before the film’s release. It has taken Brownlow more than thirty years to regain the rights for It Happened Here from United Artists in order to re-release the film as he and Mollo had originally intended it. Thanks to the generosity of the new leadership at MGM/UA, he is now finally able to do so. At last, one of cinema’s greatest historians and archivists has a chance to restore his own film. Milestone’s release of It Happened Here is the first presentation of the complete version here in the USA.

HTML link here
posted by matteo at 8:22 AM on February 12, 2006

It Happened Here also has an entry on IMDB.
posted by alumshubby at 8:28 AM on February 12, 2006

Sounds fascinating. I'd like to see this.
posted by Gator at 8:36 AM on February 12, 2006

Added to my blockbuster list. Gracias.
posted by srboisvert at 9:12 AM on February 12, 2006

Really interesting post - I hadn't come across it before. Fascinating to see the evolution from horror to (virtual) history lesson.

On a side note, it fits as part of a wider tradition of British art and literature inspired by the prospect of invasion, the most notable being The Battle of Dorking, published in the 1870s after the Prussian military successes against France. It too has the obsession with alternative historical detail. If you found this post interesting then I'd definitely recommend checking it out. Wikipedia has an interesting article on it and other similar works here. Makes me wonder what sort of invasion stories people would come up with today...
posted by greycap at 9:35 AM on February 12, 2006

Dunno about "today" per se, but for "what if they invaded" stories, there was a "what if" miniseries in the US called Amerika about 19 years ago.
posted by alumshubby at 9:44 AM on February 12, 2006

fascinating. Great post.
posted by mwhybark at 10:22 AM on February 12, 2006

In reality, one part of England knew all too well what life was like under German occupation. The Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey were under strict German control from June 1940 until May 1945. Bypassed during the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, they were finally liberated one day after VE Day:
During the Second World War, the Channel Islands were declared a demilitarised zone, and were occupied by the German forces for five years, from 1940 to 1945.

In this period of time, known to the Islanders as simply "The Occupation", Reichmarks were issued (in place of Sterling), curfews were imposed, radios confiscated and forbidden, and all the civilian population issued with identity cards. For an example of an identity card, click here.

After the D-Day landings, the Channel Islands were left in German hands while the Allies pushed forward to Germany, and it was only the advent of the Red Cross ship Vega which brought much needed relief from starvation conditions.

The Channel Islands had been heavily fortified by the Germans, and with approximately one German to every five civilians, and the possibility of using the civilian population as hostages, it was probably deemed prudent to leave the Channel Islands alone until the German High Command was defeated.
Paperien, bitte!
posted by cenoxo at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2006

Great post, matteo, thanks.

Also, this slightly cheesy but enjoyable and detailed account of life in occupied Britain by Len Deighton: SS/GB
posted by Rumple at 12:20 PM on February 12, 2006

Thanks matteo. If you like the alternate ending to WWII try Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle in which an author writes an alternate history novel where the Allieds with the war.
posted by ?! at 3:49 PM on February 12, 2006

If you want a more obscure work covering a German-occupied Britan, try Saki's When William Came, published in 1914, shortly before the start of WWI.

Not a great book but has some interesting things like the British Government-in-Exile operating out of India.
posted by pandaharma at 4:41 PM on February 12, 2006

... or try Fritz Leiber's "Catch That Zeppelin!", which centers on moderately successful architect Adolf Hitler having a quick farewell lunch with his son before catching the Hindenbrg back to Germany -- from the zeppelin terminal at the top of the Empire State.

And while you read it, listen to a little John Wesley Harding.
posted by lodurr at 5:32 PM on February 12, 2006

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