"It’s beautifully shot throughout, whether it’s the sumptuously decorated family home or the grounds that it inhabits"

Set in pre-war Britain with national tension at an all time high, Glorious 39 is a beautifully shot and marvellously directed period piece by Steven Poliakoff. 

It centres on the upper class Keyes family who are trying to maintain their way of life in the escalating time of national tension.   The family’s patriarch Alexander (Bill Nighy) works as an influential Conservative MP and his son Ralph has been newly appointed to the Foreign Office, while adopted eldest daughter Anne (Romola Garai) is a successful actress.  But when an outspoken family friend (David Tennant) is killed in suspicious circumstances, and Anne finds recordings stored at her family home by a friend of the family - sinister Home Office Official, Balcombe (Jeremy Northam), she thinks that she may have found evidence that his death is the work of a government conspiracy.

She mentions this to her father and brother hoping that they can use their political leverage to shed some light on the situation but when they refuse to take her seriously, she confides in her boyfriend Lawrence (Charlie Cox) and fellow actor, Gilbert (Hugh Bonneville)

Glorious 39 looks exactly that.  It’s beautifully shot throughout, whether it’s the sumptuously decorated family home or the grounds that it inhabits.  

The acting is universally superb, particularly so from Romola Garai as Anne, blissfully ignorant of a life outside her own privileged background and plunged headlong into a nightmare which she could never have suspected could exist.  This tonal shift requires taut directorial skill and Poliakoff manages this effortlessly; the film moves from sumptuous period piece to tense psychological thriller so smoothly, you’ll wonder how it even got there.  A special mention has to go to a scene involving the family cat which is both unnerving and nail biting.

There’s equally strong support from a star-studded British cast – Juno Temple as Anne’s petulant sister (almost reprising the role she had in Atonement), and Eddie Redmayne as her cocksure older brother but in particular Bill Nighy, whose initially reassuring softly spoken tones take on a sinister significance in the second half of the film.

There’s a bit of a hitch with Jeremy Northam’s character, the shady family friend and Home Office Official – he’s  so two dimensionally drawn that there’s no doubt to his scheming as soon as you see him on screen. 

Despite this minor gripe, Glorious 39 is a suspenseful and tense period drama which manages to be completely absorbing and yet manages to bridge the gap between two genres seamlessly thanks to some masterful directing by Stephen Poliakoff.  It’s not quite up to the same calibre as the Oscar-winning Atonement, but it’s an outstanding British drama.  Highly recommended.