Amit Guptas’ slow burning directorial debut, Resistance, is the deft adaptation of Own Sheers’ celebrated novel about an alternate history of WW2 where things didn’t quite go our way.
Resistance takes place in a 1944-1945 Welsh farming valley during an alternative history wherein D-Day has failed and the German army has begun to take control of the British Isles. Overnight, and without notice, the men of the farms leave on a mission to fight back. The women and animals are left alone, wondering if their men will ever return, when a band of Nazi troops arrive to take station within the valley.
Leading the women of the farm is Sarah (Andrea Riseborough). She is a fledgling farmer’s wife who buries her head deep into the chores of her farm to avoid the horrors of what could possibly have happened to her husband. Meanwhile, the gentile Nazi Captain Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha) seems to loose his perspective on his mission and begins to focus his attentions on farming – and a lot more on Sarah.
With the onset of winter, the farms run into a state of disrepute requiring the help of the enemy, and, finally, the captain reveals his true reason for scouring the region. The unease doesn’t truly seem to fade away, that is until Sarah and Albrecht connect over her reluctance to give in to the soldiers. This underlying attraction begins to bubble to the surface and creates an undeniable shift in a world already off its axis…
Gupta manages to get the best out of his sensational cast of up-and-coming British talent, and the depth given to the characters manages to make them tangible without too much emphases on their back-story. This gives the film momentum and carries the narrative forward rather than dwelling on any past transgressions. One exception, however, is George (Iwan Rheon), which is a shame because although Rheon does his justice in his performance, the film would certainly not be missing anything if he were not included.
Where Resistance works so well is in the expert marrying of the narrative with its environment.
Andrea Riseborough, who drives through her performance with the utmost integrity, breathes life into the character of Sarah, stealing the show in the process. She finds refuge in the Nazi captain Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha) who is torn between his duty and his emotions towards the young farmers-wife. The film lingers on the growing emotions between the two, and manages to convey to the audience a somewhat Romeo & Juliet scenario, without becoming unbelievable or dramatised.
Where Resistance works so well is in the expert marrying of the narrative with its environment. John Pardue’s evocative cinematography lingers on the mist-covered mountains, juxtaposing the isolated and tight knit village with endless expanse of countryside that surrounds it. Whether lone Welsh woman or Nazi soldier, all figures are reduced to their most vulnerable against this most imposing of landscapes. It’s the perfect backdrop for an affecting tale of isolation and desperation.
The screenplay – adapted from the book by Gupta and Sheers – is unafraid to have long moments of silence in which the audience is intriguingly invited to absorb the true horror of the situation unfolding on screen. It’s also a snapshot of the importance of community, in whatever form that should take, and of the strength of the human spirit when faced with even the most extreme of situations.
Central to the film is the ambiguity of the central relationship; it is not one of love but of mutual emotional dependence, both longing for a degree of normality in a crazy world. Riseborough and Wlaschiha are exceptional in the lead roles; one feels that their relationship is balanced on a needlepoint, one moment away from tipping into distaste, but, gradually, they build an understanding and a strange type of affection.
Strong performances are given in supporting roles: Michael Sheen and Iwan Rheon as a resistance leader and a young recruit respectively, yet the film’s other star is the Welsh landscape. Unforgiving yet beautiful, it reminds lead characters of what war has deprived them of and makes them confront the sad and terrible situation that they face. One could transplant the film into any occupied warzone in modern history and the story would ring true; of protagonists on both sides helplessly trying to resist the horrors all around them.
This is what makes Resistance such a remarkable film; it’s about the silence, the struggle of life to go on when the world is upside down, explored in the strange but fascinating relationship between the superb Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and the Welsh landscape.
Gupta compliments Owen Sheers’ source novel with a moody cinematic palette of limestone blues and bleak greys, accenting the austerity of the cruel mountainscape in which this private and highly unorthodox war transpires. Like it’s setting, however, Resistance is a cold, bleak film. Riseborough is superb, but an all-too-brief Michael Sheen cameo underscores what’s missing: conflict.
Resistance is a remarkable film that replaces the gory excitement of conventional war films with the silent beauty of landscape and almost uncomfortable liaisons of supposed adversaries. Visually affecting and emotionally stirring, Resistance will linger long in the back of your mind as the war film you’ve never seen the like of before and may never again.
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