Series One, Episode Five (Island at War)

Series One, Episode Five (Island at War)

Series One, Episode Five is the fifth episode of the first series of the television drama "Island at War".

Plot summary

In a break from the more comfortable drama of the first four episodes, Director Peter Lydon and writer Stephen Mallatratt show us glimpses of war's extremes: Germany's darkest years, and "Britain's finest hour". Juxtaposing acts of personal heroism and self-sacrifice with despicable institutional cowardice, characters jettison firmly-held principles in the face of economic necessity, and draw upon unimaginable strength to endure the unendurable.

Quick scenes advance the plot lines: Leutnant Walker, obsessed with Zelda, corners her on the beach and continues to interpret her blunt, even insulting, refusals to see him as playing hard to get. Angelique is unable to face her mother, Cassie, and confess her love for Bernhardt. Senator Dorr must face the grieving parents of Eugene La Salle, but is wracked with guilt and cannot disclose his full role in their son's death. Yet he does risk open confrontation with the Baron, who would order the La Salles arrested just for visiting the execution site in the Dorr garden. Mrs. Dorr pleads on the La Salles' behalf. When the Baron's response, "There is no compassion [in war] " visibly, and deeply, hurts her, he offers to "record in which place of unmarked wasteland he's being buried and let [the La Salles] know after the war". Phillip Dorr now feels compelled to complete his mission so that Eugene would not have "died in vain". Angelique receives a note from Bernhardt who, about to go on a raid, promises to drop his bombs "into the sea or on fields".

In a reference to Director Alan Parker's 1982 film of Pink Floyd's The Wall, Angelique watches "the promise of a brave new world unfurl beneath a (not so) clear blue sky" as Bernhardt's [ Heinkel HE-111] bomber wing flies over the island en route to England's south coast. (While almost certainly unintentional the shot also has an eerie similarity to the "Flying Monkeys" scene from the Wizard of Oz - Fans of both note the band's connection to the film).

The tolling of the church bell sets up the reference to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 masterpiece, The Battleship Potemkin and it's Odessa Steps sequence: the islanders mount an act of Nonviolent resistance and convene at the square in front of the German HQ to keep silent vigil and mourn La Salle. It is the second (of three) "moments of decision" for the Baron, who must look down from the balcony into the eyes of those he is about to have shot: Wilf, Felicity and Mr. Brotherson/Phillip. In a brilliant Double entendre the vicar, played by Malatratt himself, and James Dorr, simultaneously admire the Baron's "handling of the situation", and step through the "fourth wall" to praise the Homage to great Russian director by David Higgs, Cinematographer, and Peter Lydon, director.

Sheldon Leveque agrees to help Phillip spy and Cassie has misgivings about taking Oberwachtmeister Wimmel (who doesn't know "whether he is married or not") as her business partner. Constable Jonas turns a blind eye to Kathleen and Sheldon's circumventing German meat-rationing regulations, and states "There's no law anymore - there's just their rules, and that's no law". Higgs and Lydon extract levity from epiphany as Jonas crams a Baguette into his mouth, transforming into the subject at hand, the pig about to be butchered.

Leutnant Walker forces Zelda to come the movies with him and watch the infamous Nazi anti-semitic propaganda film, Jud Süß. On screen we see the rape of a Christian woman by the Jew, "Seuss", and his ceremonious lynching. Ironically the "fate-knocking-at-the-door" opening motif of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony has come to represent the European resistance movement, and the islanders voice their disapproval by tapping this rhythm. Walker threatens to have the cinema closed and a last "tap tap tap tap" amuses the film-goers, in stark contrast to the horrors on-screen.

More quick scenes: The Baron plays at being Phillip's father, proudly commenting to Felicity about "Mr. Brotherson's" improvement in wall-building under his tutelage. He admonishes both against further participation in acts of (even) passive resistance. Angelique is distressed by a radio broadcast announcing the RAF's routing of a flight of Heinkels cossing approaching the coast and shooting down thirty of them over the channel. June is conflicted: "150 fewer Germans in the islands" yet they're "people too ... young men ... who are not just numbers once you've met them", which, ironically, she urges her sister to do. Over dinner the Jonas' extended family receive word from their daughter, Mary, that she is safe in England, and Wilf and comes to blows with his father-in-law Harry for implying he is "collaborating with the enemy".

Mallatratt re-characterizes Bailiff Francis La Palotte, heretofore portrayed as a well-meaning old man poised to enter dotage, as the Poster boy for European complacency at the beginning of the Holocaust. In meeting of the island senate he urges acquiescence to the "German High Command in Paris" who have ordered registration of all Jews on the island, and confiscation of their property. His placating words deeply offend James Dorr, who alone speaks out against "despicable rules that we must object to in the strongest possible terms for the sake of common humanity, lest we be indistinguishable from beasts." And then in a reference to "First they came...", an anti-Nazi poem by German pastor Martin Niemöller:

"This isn't about Jews, it's about denying people the right to exist. It's about training humanity to live "as wolves" and prey on its own. You realize once they've done it they can change the target.. Slavs? Poles? Us?"
Director Lydon drives home the point with inter-cuts of the "debate" and Leutnant Walker arresting the few Jews that remain on the island.

The other shoe falls when Leutnant Walker, discovers Zelda Kay's true identity as Hannah Kozminsky. After playing cat and mouse with her, he uses the threat of sending her to die in a labour camp as leverage to force her sexual compliance. "You are a very lucky girl", he coos, leaving unsaid, "because I will keep you alive as my mistress". Naked, yet unashamed, she stands before him, his tender voice stomach-turning, "You are so beautiful ... I never would have known you were Jewish", evoking the quiet horror of Roberto Benigni's 1997 masterpiece, "Life Is Beautiful" and recalling moments from "Schindler's List" and "Sophie's Choice".

Cutting from the grotesques of lust, to the tragedy/glory of star-crossed lovers, Angelique discovers that Bernhardt Telleman has survived the ill-fated mission that claimed the lives of his compatriots.

Meanwhile Walker is searching for Hannah/Zelda who has gone into hiding above Cassie's grocery store. When he suspects Cassie and June of aiding her disappearance the daughter bluffs convincingly, earning her mother's respect for the first time since the occupation. Felicity pleads with Angelique to stop risking her life, and Phillip's, by assisting his espionage. "I don't intend to stand side-by-side with your mother at your (pl) funerals". When she goes on, "I suppose there comes a point when the hating has to stop ...there are decent young men among them...who [must] act under orders just like we do", Angelique seizes the moment to profess her love for Bernhardt, convincing her that he would never expose Phillip as a spy if he found out.

"To Favours Returned" toasts Oberwachtmeister Wimmel over wine and truffles, a simultaneously clever and tasteless pun: Cassie trades her sexual favors for the economic benefits her association with the German quartermaster supply sergeant brings.

The episode closes with a reference to Anne Frank and The Diary of a Young Girl as Cassie, bringing food to Hannah/Zelda hiding in a secret room above the shop, interrupts her writing in a journal.


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