If you are not familiar with It Happened Here, then I encourage you to become so. The premise of the movie is that Germany defeated Britain early on in World War Two, and we enter the movie two years into occupation, when a resurgence of anti-Nazi partisan activity causes one woman, Pauline, to leave her rural home and move to London. Once there she discovers that she is not permitted to carry on her work as a nurse unless she joins Immediate Action, the domestic version of the Nazi Party. So she joins IA. Not because she is pro-Nazi, or even particularly ‘right wing’; but simply as a pragmatic, resigned act of passivity… Except such passive acts naturally lead only to active acts of collaboration.
The film began in 1956 as the amateur project of Brownlow when he was an eighteen year old film buff, with designs on becoming a ‘proper’ film director. He had a basic idea for his film – the ‘what if’ speculative fiction angle of German Occupation – and managed to rustle up various volunteers to perform both in front of and behind the camera. The camera, along with everything else in the production (certainly to start with) was begged or borrowed, if not ever actually stolen. Well, not stolen by Brownlow, though the first camera lent to him was stolen from him.
Soon Brownlow met the sixteen year old Andrew Mollo, as an enthusiastic an amateur in the field of military history as Brownlow was in the field of moving pictures. Together they managed to forge a film which drew on historical accuracy, featured astonishingly effective action sequences, and was brutally convincing in portraying how ‘decent’ people can allow themselves to be drawn into committing indecent acts – or at least tacitly condoning them. And it only took them until 1964.
And this is Brownlow’s own account of the making of the film. Tradition dictates the use of the phrase “warts and all”, but that would suggest this is a more lip-lickingly sensational book than it is. Instead, we have Brownlow frankly admitting to mistake after mistake, and yet clearly with each mistake compounding upon the previous, he finds himself learning more and more, both about his craft and his subject matter. He freely admits that his earliest conception of the film was thoroughly naïve in the way the political aspects – of Nazi ideology, of collaboration – were treated; so when one compares the descriptions of the genesis of the film with the finished project, one can clearly see how those eight years helped bring a maturity to its message, to the way the themes are handled, to the way it is shot and acted and edited.
The book was originally published in 1968, but this year it was reprinted by UKA Press.