9 August 2017 | boblipton
When They Came For Me
When the Boultings first wanted to make this movie, the British censors turned them down. A movie about the evils of the Nazi regime, they thought in 1938, would be international dynamite: mustn't annoy the German government. After war was declared the following year, however, suddenly it was a good idea. A superb cast was assembled and it was released in May of 1940.
Wilfred Lawson is Pastor Hall, a village parson. When the Storm Troopers show up to get the village moving according to the new dictates, he tries to maintain his gentle form of Christianity. Eventually, however, he comes to realize they are evil and is arrested and thrown into a concentration camp, subject to unspeakable -- barely filmable --bestiality.
Because this is a work of fiction, albeit based on reality, the portrait offered is not that of Niemoller. Niemoller was a fairly typical, conservative churchman, who first opposed the Nazi regime over the political issue of Church independence. His understanding, like Hall's, of the evils, came upon him gradually, and he was arrested in 1938, and spent the entire War in Belsen. After the War, seen as a martyr, he espoused various good causes, and worked to keep the memory of what had happened alive. He died in 1984 at the age of 92.
Used, as I am, to seeing Lawson in eccentric, often comic roles, it is a shock to see him here, speaking in his stage accents. His is not the only fine performance. Seymour Hicks, best remembered for playing Scrooge on stage and in two movies, is superb as a retired general, a friend of the family. Nova Pilbeam is wonderful as Lawson's daughter. Bernard Miles is excellent as a village man who becomes a Storm Trooper because he can use the job, and suffers a crisis when he recognizes Lawson in the concentration camp.
Most shocking of all is that everyone plays their roles as Germans.... as English men and women, with accents appropriate to a small English village. You could argue this was simply a matter of staging. To me it is shocking. Almost eighty years later it seems to say that this could happen in Britain.... or America. I am almost convinced that the Boultings did this deliberately, to serve as a warning. As Kevin Brownlow noted a quarter of a century later, it can happen here.