Went the Day Well?
Went the Day Well? is a 1942 British war film adapted from a story by Graham Greene and directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. It was produced by Michael Balcon of Ealing Studios and served as unofficial propaganda for the war effort. It tells of how an English village is taken over by German paratroopers. It reflects the greatest potential nightmare of many Britons of the time, although the threat of German invasion had largely receded by that point.
|Went the Day Well?|
Theatrical film poster
|Produced by||Michael Balcon|
|Written by||Graham Greene (story)|
|Music by||William Walton|
|Edited by||Sidney Cole|
|Distributed by||Ealing Studios|
|7 December 1942 (UK)|
The story is told in flashback by a villager, played by Mervyn Johns, as though to a person visiting after the war. He recounts: one Saturday during the Second World War, a group of seemingly authentic British soldiers arrive in the small, fictitious English village of Bramley End. It is the Whitsun weekend so life is even quieter than usual and there is almost no traffic of any kind. At first they are welcomed by the villagers, until doubts begin to grow about their true purpose and identity. After they are revealed to be German soldiers intended to form the vanguard of an invasion of Britain, they round up the residents and hold them captive in the local church. The vicar is shot while sounding the church bell in alarm.
In attempts to reach the outside world, many of the villagers take action. Such plans include writing a message on an egg and giving them to the local paper boy for his mother, but they are crushed when Mrs Fraser's cousin runs over them. Mrs Fraser then puts a note in Cousin Maude's pocket, but she uses it to hold her car window in place; her dog, Edward, then chews it to shreds after it blows onto the back seat. Mrs Collins, the postmistress, manages to kill a German with an axe used for chopping firewood, and tries to telephone for help, but the girls on the telephone exchange see her light and decide that she can wait. Mrs Collins waits, and is killed by another German who walks into the shop. The girl at the exchange then picks up the phone, but gets no response.
The captive civilians attempt to contact and warn the local Home Guard, but are betrayed by the village squire, who is revealed to be a long-time collaborator with the Germans. Members of the local Home Guard are ambushed and shot by the Germans. A young boy, George, escapes from the church. He is shot in the leg by a German, but manages to alert the British army. British soldiers arrive, and – aided by some of the villagers, including a group of Women's Land Army girls, who have managed to escape, barricade themselves in, and arm themselves – defeat the Germans after a short battle. The squire is shot dead by the vicar's daughter, who discovers his treachery as he attempts to let the Germans into the barricaded house. During the battle, many of the villagers who left to fight are wounded or killed; Mrs Fraser saves the children from a grenade, at the cost of her own life, and Tom's father is shot in the arm and wrenches his ankle as he falls. The British troops then arrive at Bramley End and all ends well.
The villager retelling the story to the camera shows the Germans' grave in the churchyard and explains proudly: "Yes, that's the only bit of England they got."
- Leslie Banks as Oliver Wilsford, the treacherous squire
- C.V. France as the Reverend Ashton, the vicar
- Valerie Taylor as Nora Ashton, the vicar's daughter
- Marie Lohr as Mrs Fraser
- Basil Sydney as Kommandant Orlter, alias Major Hammond
- David Farrar as Lt. Jung, alias Lt. Maxwell
- Harry Fowler as George Truscott
- Elizabeth Allan as Peggy Pryde (a Land Army Girl)
- Frank Lawton as Tom Sturry
- Thora Hird as Ivy Dawking (a Land Army Girl)
- Muriel George as Mrs Collins, the postmistress
- Patricia Hayes as Daisy
- Mervyn Johns as Charles Sims
- Norman Pierce as Jim Sturry
- Kathleen Boutall as Mrs Sturry
- Hilda Bayley as Cousin Maude
- Edward Rigby as Bill Purvis, the poacher
- Ellis Irving as Harry Drew
- Irene Arnold as Mrs Drew
- Norman Shelley as Bob Owen
- Grace Arnold as Mrs Owen
- Philippa Hiatt as Mrs Bates
- Lillian Ellias as Bridget
- Gerald Moore as Johnnie Wade
- Charles Paton as Harry Brown
- Josephine Middleton as Mrs Carter
- Anthony Pilbeam as Ted Garbett
- Arthur Ridley as Father Owen
- Mavis Villiers as Violet
- Josie Welsford as June
- John Slater as German sergeant
- James Donald as German corporal
- Men of the Gloucestershire Regiment
Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.
"Went the day well" also appeared in an unidentified newspaper cutting in a scrapbook now held in the RAF Museum (AC97/127/50), and in a collection of First World War poems collated by Vivian Noakes.
The film reinforced the message that civilians should be vigilant against fifth columnists and that "careless talk costs lives". It was based on a short story by the author Graham Greene entitled "The Lieutenant Died Last". By the time the film was released the threat of invasion had subsided somewhat, but it was still seen as an effective piece of propaganda, and its reputation has grown over the years. It has been noted that by opening and closing in a predicted future where not only had the war been won but a (fictitious) full-scale German invasion of Britain defeated, and by presenting a scenario where all echelons of British society unite for the common good (the lady of the manor sacrifices herself without hesitation, for example), the film's message was morale-boosting and positive rather than scaremongering. Anthony Quinn, a film critic for The Independent on Sunday, commented in 2010: "It subtly captures an immemorial quality of English rural life—the church, the local gossip, the sense of community—and that streak of native 'pluck' that people believed would see off Hitler".
In July 2010, StudioCanal and the British Film Institute National Archive released a restoration of the Went the Day Well? to significant critical acclaim. Tom Huddleston of Time Out termed it "jawdroppingly subversive. Cavalcanti establishes, with loving care and the occasional wry wink, the ultimate bucolic English scene, then takes an almost sadistic delight in tearing it to bloody shreds in an orgy of shockingly blunt, matter-of-fact violence." When the restored film opened at Film Forum in New York City in 2011, A.O. Scott of The New York Times called it "undeservedly forgotten... [H]ome-front propaganda has rarely seemed so cutthroat or so cunning."
The film was released on a Manufactured-on-Demand DVD on 9 July 2015. It was released on Blu-Ray in July 2011 by Vintage Classics and subsequently in a set called "Their Finest Hour: 5 British WWII Classics" in March 2020.
- Operation Sea Lion, Germany's planned invasion of Britain in 1940
- The Eagle Has Landed (1975), a novel by Jack Higgins with a similar premise
- The Eagle Has Landed (film), 1976 film adaptation of Higgins' book
- The House at Sea’s End (Ruth Galloway, #3), 2010 novel by Elly Griffiths that addresses a crime that occurred during the time of this film and which may be related to the events the film described
- "Nazis into Germans: Went the Day Well? (1942) and The Eagle Has Landed (1976; Critical Essay)". Journal of Popular Film and Television. encyclopedia.com. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
- Noakes, Vivian (ed.) Voices of Silence: the Alternative Book of First World War Poetry, History Press 2006. ISBN 0750945214
- Duguid, Mark. "Went the Day Well? (1942)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
- Nield, Anthony (6 September 2003). "Went the Day Well?". DVD Times. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
- Quinn, Anthony (23 October 2011). "Went The Day Well? (PG)". The Independent on Sunday. London. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
- Huddleston, Tom (8 July 2010). "Went the Day Well? Movie Review". Time Out. London. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
- Scott, A.O. (20 May 2011). "Bucking Up the British in the Midst of the Fight". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 June 2011.