Directed by Amit Gupta.
Starring Tom Wlaschiha, Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough, Iwan Rheon, Kimberley Nixon and Stanislav Ianevski.
During World War II, a group of women living in a rural Welsh village wake up one morning to discover that all of the men have mysteriously vanished.
There are times when you wonder what the film industry might have become without World War Two. It’s something of a cultural touchstone for America, and certainly for Britain. We can hearken back to a time when we all pulled together for one cause, against a common enemy that, nearly seventy years later, has almost become a parody of itself.
Resistance is a film that wonders what Britain might have become without that fighting spirit. If D-Day had failed, what chance would we have stood against a full scale Nazi invasion? As this story begins, we know they’ve already taken London, and forces are headed North. We see summary executions of the scattered, disorganised resistance fighters. Dad’s Army this ain’t.
Strangely enough, this really is the last we see of the resistance fighters. Don’t go expecting Defiance-style guerrilla warfare. There are no heroes, no villains, no showdowns, no guarantees that one side will win and one side will lose. Atkins (Michael Sheen), in briefing a spy for the resistance forces, says something that underpins the very essence of his country’s dilemma: “Our choices will be the mark of who we are.” Atkins only makes one other appearance in the course of events, but after that line, he doesn’t really need to. We know now what kind of story this is.
From the very first, we’re plunged into uncertainty, as newly-wed Sarah Lewis (Andrea Riseborough) wakes up with no husband beside her and no clue to where he’s gone. The farmers have left the Olchon Valley, just ahead of the German army. Only the wives are left, feeling confused and a little betrayed.
However they might be torn up with worry and bewilderment inside, they’re women of good Welsh farming stock. When you’ve had your arm up a sheep’s back passage, there really isn’t much left to be afraid of. They’re stronger than they know, but even they can’t shepherd a whole flock and maintain a farm all by themselves. A Wehrmacht unit turn up just in time for some stony glares and we’re-not-telling-you-nothin’-type silences.
Heading up the unit is Captain Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha), a fairly young man who’s seen far too much action for one war. He’s shrewd, handsome, and for Sarah quite disarmingly nice. They’re really only supposed to be there a week or two, to establish an observation post. Then winter moves in, and every able body is needed around the farmsteads. Soon enough, the soldiers are out of uniform, chopping wood, rescuing sheep, fixing the roof, making themselves indispensible.
It all adds up to a private and deeply personal resistance for Sarah. For as long as she can bear to, she resists the changes all around her, and most of all, she resists the thought of Albrecht. Her husband Tom is all she’s got, and she can’t stop thinking about where he might be in such dangerous times. Slowly, by degrees, her resistance wears down. She catches herself daydreaming of sleeping beside Albrecht instead of Tom. She wakes with a start, clearly disturbed.
Watching Resistance is a deeply involving sort of experience. A lot of this hangs on Riseborough and Wlaschiha’s taut, understated performances. The possibilities, the thought of ‘what if’ hangs over their every encounter, and it drives a viewer to distraction wondering where it could all lead. Every other moment you find yourself willing them to inch that bit closer and seal it with a kiss; then you remember who they are and what’s going on all around them, and suddenly nothing seems all that simple.
Director Amit Gupta creates an atmosphere of slow and subtle changes for these characters. Those opening scenes of approaching invasion are marked by an unsettling calm; mist creeps down into the valley. With little to no musical backdrop for much of the first half of Resistance, often the only sound is the wind rushing up the sides of the hills. We move through the seasons, warming ever so slowly to the soldiers, starting to see these scarred young men more as lonely exiles than marauding invaders.
Throughout this story, Gupta never stops reminding us of those difficult questions raised by the situations an occupying army forces on ordinary people. We’re faced with men wearing swastikas on their uniform and we find ourselves unsure how to feel about him. Where do you draw the line between Germans and Nazis? Which do you follow when you’re surrounded on all sides – your duty or your conscience?
Resistance isn’t offering any easy answers. Nor should it. For Sarah, this is a battle of willpower. The only thing stopping her leaving the valley is that lingering hope that Tom might come back. The kind of courage she must summon up is the courage to make a choice.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film **** / Movie ***
Simon Moore is a budding screenwriter, passionate about films both current and classic. He has a strong comedy leaning with an inexplicable affection for 80s montages and movies that you can’t quite work out on the first viewing.