Blu-ray Review: The Maggie

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Inspired by Neil Munro’s Para Handy stories, The Maggie is a lesser known Ealing comedy that has the distinction of being the one of only two comedic films produced by Ealing Studios to be set in Scotland.

American born Director Alexander Mackendrick remains a towering figure in the history of Scottish cinema. Making his début with Whisky Galore, he would go on to direct a succession of Ealing comedies including The Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers. After the sale of Ealing Studios he moved to America and directed the classic film noir Sweet Smell of Success.

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Nominated for three BAFTA awards, The Maggie focuses on the misadventures of a crew aboard a decrepit puffer boat as they transport a wealthy American’s possessions to his holiday home. Released five years after Whisky Galore, the film offers a more satirical strain of Scottish humour that provides a commentary on post-war relations between Scotland, America, and England.

Overshadowed by the legacy of his other work for Ealing Studios, The Maggie is an exquisite comedy that has drifted into relative obscurity. A probable influence on William Forsyth’s Local Hero, it reprises themes from Mackendrick’s previous film, Whisky Galore, and may be his most personal cinematic moment.

Born to Scottish migrant workers in Boston, Massachusetts Mackendrick was sent to live in Glasgow after his father died of influenza. Raised by his grandparents, he never saw his mother again. Aspects of this traumatic upbringing are repeatedly woven into his films. Childhood, separation, and loss of innocence are recurrent themes.

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Affording Mackendrick the opportunity to explore his dual cultural heritage while critiquing the English, The Maggie is an emotionally complex film which satirises materialism, highlights the inflexibility of bureaucracy, and celebrates the plight of those who take a stand against a rigid authority.

A valentine to a way of life that was rapidly disappearing as the economy restructured in the years immediately after World War II, traditionalism is contrasted with then new forms of capitalism and an increased internationalisation. The crew of an obsolete ship is unwitting ambassadors for a sector of society that resisted transformation and cherished rituals.

Former school teacher Alex Mackenzie was 61 when he became an actor. In his first screen role, he plays Captain MacTaggart, a wily veteran of the waves who desperately needs £300 to renew his shipping licence. An opportunity to raise the necessary funds arises when an official mistakenly agrees to allow a puffer boat to transport a wealthy American’s possessions to his holiday home.

After learning how his goods are being transported Calvin B. Marshall (Paul Douglas) sets out to reclaim the property. Failure to deliver the cargo will mean that the boat is decommissioned.

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More fulfilling than Whisky Galore, The Maggie has been unfairly overlooked for far too long. A deeply personal film from one of the Scottish film industry’s most significant figures. Expanding themes explored in his previous film, the director probes Scotland’s relationship with its transatlantic ally through the prism of his dual nationality. The naming of Paul Douglas’ character refers to Mackendrick’s Calvinist upbringing and the Marshall Plan.

Sentimental with a subversive undercurrent, The Maggie is one of Ealing Studio’s most rewarding comedies. Deserving of greater exposure, the superb restoration from the BFI and StudioCanal should see its reputation renewed.

The Maggie is available to order from Amazon.

 

 

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DVD Review: The Saboteurs

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An epic recreation of one of World War Two’s most significant acts of sabotage.

Previously filmed as Operation Swallow: The Battle for Heavy Water and The Heroes of Telemark, The Saboteurs is a balanced re-telling of the Nazi regime’s attempts to be first in the race to create nuclear weaponry and the daring efforts of Norwegian troops to destroy a plant being used to create fission material. A supremely well-crafted series brings to the screen a turning point in the war and places events in historical context.

The Norsk Hydro plant in Telemark, Norway, had been producing heavy water in large quantities since 1934. At the outbreak of hostilities, an arrangement was in place to supply the French government with heavy water for the duration of the conflict. After Nazi occupation supplies were commandeered and sent to Germany where they were used by scientists in experiments to create the first atomic bomb.

Allied governments suspected that Germany was trying to create a nuclear weapon and that heavy water may be a core ingredient in the process. Destroying the plant could change the course of the war.

Perched atop an icy ravine, the plant was protected by several layers of concrete and armed guards. To reach the facility the saboteurs had to cross a frozen river and climb a gorge. Senior officers doubted that the raid would be successful. KAMPEN_OM_TUNGTVANNETBreaking viewing records, The Saboteurs achieved the highest ratings this century when it was screened in Norway. 1.7 million viewers tuned into the series (the country’s population is 5.1 million).

Eschewing the triumphalist “boys own” tone employed by previous adaptations the series presents people on both sides of the conflict as complex emotionally driven individuals wrestling with moral dilemmas. Screenwriter Petter S. Rosenlund and Director Per-Olav Sørensen have produced a tense series that trounces all previous attempts to dramatize the mission.

Deep in the heat of Germany’s war machine, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg (Christoph Bach) conducts experiments to build the first atomic bomb. His superiors are convinced that this weapon will ensure Germany is victorious. Heisenberg requires heavy water to control nuclear fission.

Following Germany’s occupation of Norway chemistry professor Leif Tronstad (Espen Klouman-Høiner) flees to London and makes contact with Military Intelligence. Working alongside Colonel John Wilson (Pip Torrens) and Captain Julie Smith (Anna Friel), Leif plans a sabotage mission.

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Several changes have been made to the story for dramatic purposes. The on-screen director of Norsk Hydro is a fictional creation that amalgamates several figures. When Leif arrived in London he was not met by Captain Julie Smith (Anna Friel). Records show that no female officer was involved in planning the mission.

Undoubtedly the definitive screen version of the mission. Per-Olav Sørensen’s cinematic direction offers up a succession of breathtaking set pieces which highlights the human drama and .communicates the dangers faced by troops as they attempted to cross a treacherous snow-covered mountainous landscape.

A fitting tribute to the real-life heroes of Telemark. The Saboteurs is a complex slow-burning drama that attempts to understand what motivated each side in this conflict.

The Saboteurs is available to order from Amazon.