As wartime dramas go, one begins to feel very much like another. But what debut feature-film writer-director Amit Gupta has created is an alternative 1940s ‘reality’, based on a fascinating novel by Owen Sheers, about what if the Nazis had succeeded with their invasion plans of Old Blighty. Resistance actually reignites our interest in the genre, as well as points to a fascinating real-life back-story.
It’s WWII and Britain is occupied. A group of women in a remote Welsh village wake up to discover all of their husbands have mysteriously vanished overnight, possibly to join the Resistance. Meanwhile, a German patrol led by commanding officer Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha) arrives in the valley on a mysterious mission. The women are scared but defiant, and with the harsh winter closing in begin to form a dependency. One young wife, Sarah (Andrea Riseborough), catches Albrecht’s eye. Cut off from all other wartime events, the lines between collaboration, duty, occupation and survival become blurred, as the future looks unknown.
This strangely abstract ‘anti-wartime’ drama has its own quietly aching soul, powered by an all-consuming and unique back-story that up until now has never been portrayed on film. In fact, the ‘Auxiliary Units’, a government-funded network of WWII resistance cells whose grim tasks would have included supposedly shooting all Nazi collaborators, as well as disrupting any invaders arriving on these shores, have been shrouded in secrecy for the past 50 years and are only coming to light now. But those expecting to see an action-packed and explosive adaptation of the Sheers novel of the same name, like some sober Dad’s Army imitation, will be disappointed, as this is not the film to expose the clandestine happenings – it merely suggests the presence of such units at the start.
Gupta is more interested in those left behind, and the impact of occupation, which has an intriguing analogy to current war zones like Afghanistan. In this sense, Gupta’s women in the story are strong and curiously ambiguous in thought. There are long, lingering moments of just ‘being’ in some scenes, as though the female characters will remain silent to their graves as they wait out events and the impending winter. It creates a haunting and quite moving effect, and the balance of power interestingly swings between local knowledge and that of the occupiers. Riseborough plays Sarah as a complete enigma, brave yet struggling with her self resolve, and keeping you guessing at her every thought and move while creating a tantalising, underlying narrative tension alone.
Wlaschiha as Albrecht is the film’s catalyst, the smiling, handsome face of the enemy and the approachable negotiator who wants nothing more than to survive the war by hiding out in the village from both sides – more so from the SS. Wlaschiha is charismatic in a mitigating and rigid fashion, but his presence is necessary to break down the women’s barriers, and the actor gives a confident and memorable performance. Nevertheless, we are always left wondering at Albrecht’s true feelings and whether they are selfish and out of necessity for survival, rather than anything meaningful. In this sense, and with the deliberate pace of the film, Gupta creates an alluring character study of resilience under occupation of both the occupier and the occupied.
That said – and without clues from the research of Sheer’s novel, there is a little too much ambiguity at times, especially with the appearance and subsequent shock disappearance of Martin Sheen as Resistance fighter Tommy Atkins that is woefully undeveloped and unexplained. Understandably, to venture down this path would detract from the women’s story and would mean a completely different film altogether. But all we are given is Atkins’ pearls of wisdom and his blunt commands to the only Welsh man left in the village, a young sniper called George (Iwan Rheon) who takes on the typical film/TV resistance role. It is also not clear what the true mission of Albrecht and his men are, short of the obvious as previously explained, and a hidden treasure in a cave seems like another obscure sub-plot that merely confuses our impression of Albrecht’s true intent.
In fact, Gupta’s faithfully muted approach to Sheers’ literary atmosphere is both Resistance’s illusive strength and its hindrance. However, Gupta demonstrates that he is more than deft at such a provocative subject matter, and like his leads, is one appealing emerging talent to watch.