Land Girls

on June 12, 1998 by Ray Greene
   Dear British Film Industry:
   I recently attended an advance festival screening of "Land Girls," an expensively mounted, exquisitely photographed period film about three women who are sort of British WACs during WWII. There's this food shortage going on because of the evil Jerrys, and so the WACS are sent out to till the soil of Merry England and learn life lessons about love and milking cows and things like that. I could tell I was supposed to get all choked up a whole bunch of times, because this tinkly piano music kept playing on the soundtrack-you know, the kind of stuff they use during commercials for long distance companies and feminine hygiene products and other icky but necessary goods and services? Anyway, I was watching this movie, and I realized I had this... problem. So I thought I'd write to you, because I was sure you'd know what I should do.
   See, the thing of it is, I'm an American. A "Yank," as you so picturesquely call us. We speak the same language, only your version of it is a lot prettier to listen to, which is appropriate, since it is called English. What I've noticed about your movies is that a lot of times they're... well... boring. Pompous, even. Particularly the ones with historical themes, which seem to be something like two out of three of the movies you people make over there, or at least of the ones you export.
   Don't get me wrong. I can understand how a country like England would be hung up on historical dramas. After all, 60 years ago, there was still a British Empire, wasn't there? "Rule Britannia" and Rudyard Kipling and all that. England was still a superpower, and that must be a pretty hard thing to have to try to get over. Who can really blame British filmmakers, and the government agencies that often subsidize their work, for wanting to dwell on such a glorious past?
   Over here in America, though, our glorious past consists of throwing you people out on your ear over two centuries ago, and then coming to your rescue every time it looked like you were going to be invaded by Germany. We think differently, even if we do speak the same language. And "Land Girls"<197>beautiful photography, tinkly piano music and all<197>reminded me of just how wide the separation is between the kind of stuff you people like to put up on movie screens, and the things we people over here like to see.
   What's with that leading man, anyway? He's an outdoor type, and I guess we're supposed to think he's some kind of great lover or something, seeing as he manages to bag all three of the female leads by the end of the movie. Shouldn't this guy have a muscle or two at least, and maybe a hairline that starts within nine inches of his eyebrows? In America, our great outdoorsmen all have rippling torsos and thick, luxuriant follicles adorning their scalps, which is the reason the crawls at the end of American movies often contain "Personal Trainer" credits, and why Beverly Hills is the hair transplant capital of the western world. We go for virility in the States, and I have to tell you, a guy like the male star of "Land Girls" wouldn't manage to bag three of our women in his whole life, let alone in just under two hours of screen time.
   Then there's this fixation with "class" you people are so hung-up about, particularly class as demonstrated by dialect. I mean, okay, here are these three British soldier girls, and they get sent to some farmhouse where everybody speaks like they were born on a cliff in northern Wales. The girls were supposedly selected at random by the British civil service or something, but they've actually been put together by some clever screenwriter as mismatched "types" for comedic effect. How do we know that they're mismatched types assembled for comedic effect? Because their accents don't match.
   Hardy har har.
   My biggest complaint, though, is about this whole "stiff upper lip" thing you people are so into. "The English Patient" was probably the best example ever of what I'm talking about (I know, I know, the producer was an American, but you could tell he wishes he was British). Here's a guy who's crazy in love with a woman, and she's crazy in love with him. She's married, which is a nasty complication, only it's to Colin Firth, who could certainly use a few sit-ups, so her marriage doesn't count. They spend 10 percent of their time being in love with each other, and something like 90 percent of their time feeling guilty about it, and when they finally decide they should throw caution to the wind and be together, a bunch of melodramatic plot twists crop up which leave her dead and him covered in burns so that he looks like Boris Karloff in "The Mummy."
   Well, what's up with that? I mean, think about it for a second. Just what is this movie trying to say? That passion is evil? That those stays and buttons your British costume designers are so fond of sewing onto all those heaving bodices are actually stop signals and "don't walk" signs? Things end so tragically for people who fall in love in British period films. It's a wonder you people have managed to reproduce at all.
   If you've seen "Land Girls," you know why I'm bringing this up. About two thirds of the way into the movie, one of the leading ladies (the one with the least affected dialect, which I guess means she's the one we're supposed to care about) suddenly falls in love with the flabby outdoorsmen, and all hell breaks loose. Her frigid fiance (who she never loved anyway) gets shot down by the Germans just when she's about to break things off. He's lost both legs. He's lying in a hospital that's shot like a Chinese funhouse, and he's a cripple. With typically British sang froid he tells her he'll understand if she wants to break it off. She decides to stay with him, ruining two lives: hers, and that of the flabby outdoorsman. And the whole thing is presented as if we're supposed to admire her for making such a noble choice.
   I felt like I was watching a movie from Mars.
   I know living through WWII must have been hell on your country, what with all those nightly air-raids and such. I know, too, that you people didn't build and lose an Empire without a lot of sacrifice. In America, we're much too addicted to instant gratification, and our movies tend to take cheap, easy shortcuts to happy endings as a reflection of that. But I still can't figure out why virtually every time you people make a movie that isn't about working class junkies or male strippers it turns out to be a dour lesson on why duty is more important than following your heart.
   So the personal problem I'd like you to help me solve is this: I can't stand British period movies, and I'm still trying to figure out why.
   Something to do with growing up in a Democracy, I guess.
   Yours truly,
   Snoozing at Sundance
   And P.S.: I know what you're thinking. There's a flaw in my analysis. "Land Girls" is based on a novel, which is a classic argument for legitimizing rotten movies. Well, something else you should know about Americans is that we're too busy watching television and holding down second jobs to read novels. So don't kid yourself that it matters.    Starring Catherine McCormack, Rachel Weisz and Anna Friel. Directed and written by David Leland. Produced by Simon Relph. A Gramercy release. Drama. Rated R for some sexuality. Running time: 115 min. Opens 6/12. Screened at Sundance.
Tags: No Tags

read all Reviews »


No comments were posted.

What do you think?