“Went the Day Well?” is a propaganda curio from WWII Britain. It was released in 1942 and although the threat of Nazi invasion had dissipated, there was still a fear of a German raid and espionage activities. People were also cognizant of Fifth Columnists living amongst the loyal British civilians. The movie tapped into these fears and was a morale booster for a public which wanted confirmation that the British people would deal with these types of threats in their stiff upper lip style. The film was based on a short story by Graham Greene entitled “The Lieutenant Died Last”. It was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. The movie was a success with audiences and critics and has undergone a revival with the release of a restoration in 2010.
The story is told in flashback form from a future where Great Britain has been victorious in the war. A tourist in the village of Bramley is told the story behind the graves of German soldiers in the church cemetery. On May 23, 1942, a lorrie full of British soldiers arrives in the village. They are actually Germans who speak flawless English (as opposed to the American soldiers soon to arrive in England). The village intellectual is suspicious, but makes the mistake of telling her suspicions to the local traitor who is able to explain away her concerns. However, the Germans are eventually forced to lock the locals up in the church. The people fight back and the village scamp goes for help. With the cavalry on the way, the villagers attempt to take back their home. This includes a spirited defense of the vicar’s house led by two feisty females from the Woman’s Land Army. (The Land Girls were young ladies who volunteered to take the place of men in agriculture during the war.)
“Went the Day Well?” is an underrated little gem. It has a far-fetched plot which probably seemed near-fetched in 1942. It was intended to be inspirational and educational. The audience was taught to be wary and not to feel uncomfortable with killing Germans with axes (as one female character does). There are some rousing heroes and heroines and some hissable villains. The movie has some of the strongest female characters in any war movie. Several women get in on the killing. The villains are not caricatures. The village and villagers appear stereotyped, but this is probably a realistic depiction of a rural British community from the 1940s.
The movie is well-crafted. The dialogue is good and acting is stellar from a classic British cast. There is some excellent action and some gut-punching deaths. In fact, the movie is refreshingly sober. Although generally predictable (did you think the Germans would be successful?), how it gets to its feel-good ending is not obvious. The suspense builds nicely. And the traitor gets his. It is a satisfying movie.
“Went the Day Well?” is from the “what if” subgenre and we will never know whether the British public would have reacted the way the fictional villagers do. It seems likely that the movie is a “what would have been”. Its depiction of how the various social classes come together to defeat the Nazis seems realistic. The fact that the traitor is an upper class landowner also seems easy to believe. Watching it made me wonder if the same thing would have happened in America during the war. Certainly in New Iberia, but I have my doubts about the patriotism of many Northerners. (That's a joke, my Yankee friends.)
GRADE = B