Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might. So proclaims the Ministry of Information poster that forms the backdrop for Private Resistance. For an extended family in 1940 rural Essex the peril is all too real, the horrors of war are coming close to home and, once Hitler’s forces have invaded, their way of life will never be the same again.
Ivan Cutting’s script may be a fascinating ‘What If’ scenario but it’s a scenario that Churchill took seriously, setting up a network of Auxiliary Units hidden across the country to disrupt an invasion force advance. Bunkers were dug, weapons and stores hidden and a network of cells recruited, never knowing who else was in the organisation.
In reality such units were never needed and details of their operation still remain somewhat shrouded in the secrecy of government. Cutting’s script looks at one such cell and the psychological pressures the units and their families would actually face in the event Hitler had invaded.
Despite her husband being imprisoned in a German Prisoner of War camp, Diane is determined to carry with as much normality as possible. Her 15 year old nephew, Wilf, though has ideas of a more active wartime role, something that fellow lodger ATS girl Prue can readily understand. As the war progresses, the plot takes a different track to known history with reports of German troops marching through Essex, groups of men and boys being rounded up and shot as punishment and, even more chilling, the Norwich to London train line being used by ‘cattle truck’ trains deporting Jews to Eastern European concentration camps.
The script is peppered with historical detail but at its heart this is the story of the human impact of war and the pressure put on ordinary citizens in extraordinary times to protect their Country and culture. There’s a mounting sense of frustration as the months pass, marked on the ever prevalent calendar, and the realisation that, unless decisive action is taken, a whole generation is threatened.
Thirty years after the final liberation of the UK, Diane is invited onto a radio programme to discuss her role in the resistance and we finally get to hear the true sacrifice those villagers made to defend their freedom.
Naomi Jones’ production grabs the attention from the outset and doesn’t drop the dramatic tension throughout. Details are slowly revealed, much like the Auxiliary Units themselves, on a need to know basis, so we only fully get the full picture at the moving climax. Jones makes great use of Fabrice Serafino’s impressive set, effectively revealing hidden secrets throughout.
There are impressive performances throughout the ensemble, all providing period characters that we can still identify with over 70 years on. Matt Addis, Phil Pritchard, Bishanyia Vincent, Fred Lancaster and Frances Marshall all give their respective characters dignity and humanity in the most testing of times.
We may all think we know what we would do if our country is threatened but what would we really do if faced with the challenge – ‘Could you look at people in years to come and say I did nothing’? East Anglia was a prime target for Hitler’s invasion plans, Private Resistance and its thought-provoking ‘what if’ scenario is a fitting tribute to those unsung heroes who were prepared to risk everything to defend their communities. A moving and uplifting tribute to humanities determination to protect freedom.
Photo by Mike Kwasniak
Originally written for The Public Reviews