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Glorious 39 (2009)

Anne Keyes (Romola Garai) is a very lucky person. The adopted daughter of wealthy member of parliament (Bill Nighy), Anne has money, beauty, and prestige as well as a family who adores her, a new charming boyfriend, and a promising career as an actress. It's 1939 in Britain and although Europe is falling apart, Anne isn't very concerned - she doesn't worry about politics.

Glorious 39 takes place in the days right before and after Britain declares war on Germany. As the political situation becomes more desperate, one of Anne's acquaintances dies suspiciously and she discovers a few records in her father's office that are filled not with foxtrot music, but with recorded conversations of suspicious meetings. Although her family keeps urging her to concentrate on her acting career, she can't help investigating what these records really mean.

This recent film by Stephen Poliakoff is a real and proper thriller. It feels throughout like something Hitchcock might've made - where the suspense and the danger derive not from outside forces, but from within the hearts of the people you love most. And the truth that Anne is attempting to uncover about a plot within the government is not as devastating as the possibility she is scared to see - that her adopted family may not love her enough.

Stephen Poliakoff manages within the confines of a movie set in Britain over the course of a few 1939 weeks to convey the overall horror of WWII. Anne doesn't just uncover a plot - her whole world slowly collapses into death, bureaucratic callousness, and suffering. There is one scene that evokes the holocaust better than almost anything else I've seen.

It also builds suspense so well - like in most Hitchcock movies, Anne is a vulnerable woman (wearing some great dresses) with no idea who to trust - and so the whole world becomes untrustworthy. By the mid-way point everyone and everything that she encounters becomes sinister, from a truck that passes her on the road to her 8 year old cousin.

The movie's only problem is the last 20 minutes. The mood builds and builds and then it gets lost a bit. Stephen Poliakoff doesn't quite know how to end the story so there are about three endings and the one he finally leaves us with is too tidy. It's only noticeable because the rest of the film is so wonderfully murky. But that's a small problem compared to the movie's pluses. The direction and the cinematography are beautiful. The performances are brilliant, in particular Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith as Anne's aunt, and Hugh Bonneville as a faded actor.

In the end, there are some scenes that I will not forget and other scenes that I'll think about for a long time.