Resurrected: “Raw War drama from a debuting Greengrass”

The Bourne franchise director Paul Greengrass made his directorial debut in 1989 with Resurrected which is, um, resurrected by Indicator this week in the shape of a rather welcome Blu-ray package.

Resurrected tells the story of Kevin Deakin (played by David Thewlis who, like his director, was also making his cinematic debut here), a squaddie and stretcher-bearer who is listed as missing presumed dead in the wake of the chaotic battle of Mount Tumbledown during the Falklands conflict of 1982. Back home, his family (kitchen sink legends Tom Bell and Rita Tushingham star as Kevin’s parents) and his girlfriend Julie (Rudi Davies, flame-haired daughter of novelists Beryl Bainbridge and Alan Sharp and former Grange Hill star) grieve and hold a memorial service at the village church for the boy they waved off to war weeks earlier. Seven weeks later, however, Kevin returns from the dead. Shell-shocked and weary, he arrives at an islander’s farmhouse. He is very hungry and claims to have not only lost his platoon but is also unaware that the war is over. Returned home to the bosom of his family in the north of England, he is warmly and triumphantly embraced as a hero. However, it soon becomes clear to audiences that Resurrected isn’t going to be a story of a homecoming celebration and the relief that a life was spared. Kevin’s miraculous return back from the dead has entered the public domain, and with it comes speculation. There’s talk in the village, emboldened by what the tabloid press are beginning to hint at. Did Kevin let himself down? Did he survive at the cost of other good (perhaps even better) men? Is Kevin Deakin really a hero who cheated death, or is he actually a deserter who ran away and left his comrades to die in the heat of battle? This dark ambiguity begins to hang over his version of events, chipping away at how even those closest to Kevin come to view him. Returning to barracks, Kevin finds the nagging doubts he discovered within his loved ones are magnified ten-fold by his fellow squaddies. For the rest of his platoon, there is no ambiguity; Kevin is a coward. And cowards must be punished.

Prior to making this film, Paul Greengrass was a documentary filmmaker working on Granada Television’s flagship documentary series, World in Action. Whilst this film marks his first foray into a fictional narrative, it’s important to remember that the story behind Resurrected is based very much in truth and, as a result, the roots of Greengrass’ formative background in documentary filmmaking are clear for all to see. Hailing from Halton in the north-west of England, Philip Williams was an eighteen year old with little opportunities or future in early ’80s Thatcher’s Britain. Deciding to enlist, Williams was recruited by the prestigious Scots Guards, a regiment who have the honour of protecting the royal family at Buckingham Palace. Initially, Williams enjoyed military life, but he felt no real kinship with his fellow soldiers, who he claimed had a far greater degree of patriotism than he ever possessed and were often casually racist and misogynistic. In 1982, Williams was deployed to the Falklands to take part in a war that his intake, indeed arguably the UK in general, never expected to have to fight. It was the 14th June on Mount Tumbledown, whilst operating as a stretcher-bearer, recovering and removing the dead and dying and giving covering fire where possible, that Williams was struck by an explosion and fell unconscious. Waking up the following day, Williams found himself alone on Tumbledown. Lost, afraid and suffering from both shock and exposure, Williams began to hide out wherever natural cover presented itself. Unbeknownst to him at this point, he was, in essence, hiding from an enemy that no longer existed; the Argentinians having surrendered once British troops took the town of Stanley which lay below the mountain. Williams’ parents were informed that he had died and a memorial service was held for him, only for a miracle to happen when he was on his way back to civilization seven weeks later. Returning home, Williams was met with allegations of cowardice and desertion by both the media and his fellow soldiers and he subsequently resigned from the army. The 1980s were a time when post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t just misunderstood, it was met with deep and hostile scepticism. As a result, Williams’ plight was left undiagnosed and, finding himself unable to cope with the effects of his trauma and life on civvy street in general, he spent long stretches homeless and living rough, or imprisoned for various bouts of petty criminality. His story, Summer Soldier, was published in the late 1980s at a time when he was beginning to get his life back on track, engaging with various peace and conservation causes. In Resurrected, Greengrass, alongside the film’s screenwriter Martin Allen, takes Williams’ experiences as a template, concerning themselves only with the immediate aftermath of the story, rather than what happened when Williams left the army. Look out though for an ironic cameo from Williams in the movie. He can be seen as a long-haired figure manning a shoot ’em up video game in an amusement arcade that Thewlis’ Kevin wanders through.

Personally, I really appreciate how his film explores the grey area between ‘hero’ and ‘coward’ and how society in the main can only accept such cut and dried, black and white ideas. Where this is particularly effective is in how Kevin is comes to be viewed by his friends and family. There’s a really interesting dichotomy at play here; as they feel at once relieved to have him back safe, but begin to resent both the insinuations and Kevin’s own psychological trauma so much that they cannot help but feel it was easier to have him remain to them the dead hero they initially presumed him to be. Such an attitude is clearly influenced and stoked by the tabloids who, right from the off on the airport tarmac, are shown to view Kevin as fair game, just as they had viewed his real-life counterpart, Philip Williams. Remember, the 1980s was a time long before social media and the internet, and so it was the traditional forms of media that monopolised the way in which people got their news. The working class of this time, who made up the staggering three million-plus readership of daily ‘red tops’ such as The Sun and The Daily Mirror, would come to believe everything that Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell, the press barons behind those two titles, told them – the miners’ strike of 1984-’85 saw pit villages struggling to correlate the reality they witnessed daily with the skewed and falsified, government-endorsed reporting they saw in the print or on TV. With that in mind, it’s perhaps easier to understand that, if the media suggested that your own son or boyfriend could be a coward, such an idea could begin to take shape in your brain, leading to significant doubt and mistrust. It was only with the tragedy of Hillsborough and the subsequent smear attempts upon the people of Liverpool that the general public began to consider that the media had its own interests when it came to reporting the so-called truth. It’s this first half of the film that I enjoy the most as, in dealing with these themes, we see Kevin’s family and his local village community (made up of early appearances of future stars such as a youthful yet brassy Lorraine Ashbourne and a curly-topped, fresh from drama school Steve Coogan, billed here as ‘Youth 2’) struggle to understand Kevin’s PTSD whilst simultaneously being drip-fed the suspicions of the press. The second half of the film sees Kevin return back to barracks were inevitably the (narrow)minds of his fellow squaddies are already made up. They feel that Kevin has let the side down and that his presence is a cancerous threat which must be excised swiftly and without compassion. A regiment is, after all, only as strong as its weakest member and such cohesive unity is put at risk if that weak member is shown to be deficient in the physical and physiological invincibility that they have convinced themselves as possessing. If one of their number does not have such strength, then could it be that none of them in fact do? With such thoughts a dangerous anathema, the regiment realise they must make Kevin’s existence a living hell until his position is no longer tenable, and the lingering doubt regarding their own vulnerabilities is also equally expunged. Obviously this example of casting out and disowning someone for the sake of the group as a whole is in itself an interesting facet of the human condition to explore, but neither Greengrass nor Allen get a significant handle on it, and the film descends instead into a somewhat familiar tale of institutionalised bullying of the most graphic and unpalatable kind. Despite strong characterisation from Chris Fulford (Britain’s go-to for a certain kind of repugnant menace) as Kevin’s chief tormentor and, surprisingly of all, David Lonsdale, a future star of cosy Sunday night drama Heartbeat, seen here as a bullet-headed, Maggie-loving bully, these sequences cannot compete with the more intriguing structure of the film’s initial stages, nor the playing of heavyweights like Bell and Tushingham.

Talk of acting, of course, leads us to David Thewlis in the central role. As mentioned earlier, this was the Blackpool born actor’s first movie role, though you could be forgiven for not believing this trivia (actually, whilst it could be argued that his appearance in Vroom came first, the truth is that, as Beeban Kidron’s film was unreleased, it was Resurrected that first introduced Thewlis to cinemagoers). Already, Thewlis comes fully formed as a significant and intriguing screen presence; his gangly, gawky frame previously put to good use as comedic stooges in bit parts for small screen sitcoms like Only Fools and Horses and the odious Jim Davidson ‘comedy’ vehicle Up the Elephant and Round the Castle lends itself perfectly to the vulnerable complexities of a character like Kevin Deakin. A hugely sympathetic presence, Thewlis sells the role tremendously well and is wholly believable, whether he’s dodging the bullets and tracer rounds of the Argentinian troops in the highly evocative and nightmarish recreation of Tumbledown (featuring genuine Royal Marine veterans as supporting artistes and technical advisors) or simply dodging the media frenzy and fanfare that his return home affords him, escaping into the back room of his local pub to nonchalantly chain smoke and shoot some pool, hoping everything will revert to normal. That the life he left behind was frozen, awaiting his return.

There’s no escaping the fact that Resurrected is a first effort from a novice director, but it’s fair to say that it shows signs of both the visual template and thematic preoccupations that would subsequently dominate Greengrass’ work, particularly in such dramatised recreations as Bloody Sunday and United ’93. The editing by Dan Rae isn’t intrusive and affords Greengrass the opportunity to shoot on the hop; in an interview that forms part of the Blu-ray extras, David Thewlis recalls how the camera moves away from him to a braying mob in one crucial scene solely for the make-up artistes to hurriedly apply their wares to his features before its return. The cinematography from Ivan Strasburg is also strong, capturing the scenic beauty of Huddersfield (Kevin’s home, which he attempts to come to terms with once more through a series of hillside walks) and presenting the action as realistic and naturalistic as possible. As a pseudo-documentary piece it holds its own rather well, though Greengrass states in his own interview on the extras that, if he were to do it now, he would not fictionalise the account of Philip Williams. I think that would be the right move, though I understand the reasoning behind why he choose not to do it back in 1989; with the previous year’s Tumbledown, Richard Eyre’s biopic of Falklands veteran Captain Robert Lawrence, grabbing the headlines, he suggests that he needed to put a bit of distance between his movie and that one for it to become its own thing. However, it’s worth pointing out that the fact that two such similar films came out in swift succession, and relatively contemporary to the conflict, has rendered them invaluable in appreciating the Falklands War from a modern perspective. Indeed, both films have a lot in common in terms of how they approach the conflict and its aftermath. When Colin Firth’s wheelchair-bound Lawrence attends a ceremony for the returning soldiers in Eyre’s film, finding himself largely ignored in the back row where he is unable to actually witness the event play out, he bitterly complains that “It’s as if they’d rather we didn’t come back”.  This for me is the main point of both that film and Resurrected. As already discussed, the narrative progression of Greengrass’ film leads to Kevin’s own family facing up to the ugly reality that life was easier with a dead hero for a son than a living one met with scrutiny, but both films acknowledge a nation that had simply changed their minds about the conflict once it was fought and won. The flag-waving patriotism as the boys set sail and the Page Three Stunnas raising their T-shirts to remind them of what they had missed upon their return quickly dissipated as the country began to wonder just what the taking back of a small island 8,064 miles away in the South Atlantic was all for. What was initially seen as a victory and a significant moment of nationalistic pride soon became caustically viewed as little more than a publicity stunt for a hitherto underperforming premier’s campaign for a second term. Once victory at the polls for Thatcher was achieved, the ‘brave boys’ that the general public once pledged their devotion to were now treated and derided as little more than duped puppets of little more than a fad, a moment of jingoism not too dissimilar to the 2012 Olympics and Jubilee when viewed today from our Brexit heavy gaze. Seeing the reality of the dead and the wounded – or indeed the fit and healthy (on the surface, at least) – soldiers was something that much of the public simply did not want to face. Throughout the 1980s, the idea that the Falklands was some kind of phony, vote-winning war began to enter popular consensus, but the truth for the veterans could not have been more different. To them, it was a very real war. They fought as they were trained to do, with a spirit as strong as if they were fighting Nazism in WWII or indeed any other conflict from history, because there are no half measures in war. These veterans, as both Greengrass and Eyre’s films portray, became an essentially embarrassing and all too real spectre at the feast; figures who did not fit in with the widely held view that it was all a bit of a flag-waving farce. Their visibility was just too stark and difficult to correspond with popular opinion and, as Resurrected shows, even those closest to them could not comprehend why such men were ‘angry’ or ‘subdued’; symptoms of PTSD that understandably grow worse when faced with such ill-equipped appreciation or flat out indifference to their experiences. The tragedy of men like Kevin Deakin is that they remained isolated and misunderstood because the rest of society simply weren’t there to experience it as they had done.

This Indicator release includes a handful of extras including the aforementioned interviews with Greengrass and Thewlis, the latter remarking on the coincidence that, prior to attending the interview recording, he received a letter from the daughter of Philip Williams inquiring about any memories he has about making the film. Thewlis comes across as a warm and affable man and pledges to write back to Williams’ daughter. Both interviews were recorded in 2011, so I hope that he’s done that now. A more recent interview seemingly specially shot for this release is with Rita Tushingham, who recalls her experiences during the making of the film and wonders what happened to Williams. Unfortunately, we’re left to wonder too, as the disc itself has no recent interview from the man who inspired Resurrected. However, what is included is a deeply insightful and invaluable audio recording of an interview he gave for the Imperial War Museum’s Oral History program presumably around the time of the film’s release. As usual with Indicator, the release is accompanied by a booklet containing essays, reviews and interviews but this was not available with this screener so I cannot say for certain if there is any new updates on Williams. Wherever he is, I hope he is a much more balanced and contented man now.

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RESURRECTED IS OUT FROM INDICATOR

 

Mark Cunliffe

Mark's first experience at the cinema was watching the 1982 Cannon and Ball vehicle The Boys In Blue. Despite this ignoble start, he has nurtured a love of film and television ever since. He is a critical essayist for Arrow Films and his work appears in the DVD/Blu-ray releases of Stormy Monday, Day of the Jackal, Jake Speed, Children of Men and the Alec Guinness movie The Prisoner. He has also appeared on the Talking Pictures podcast and is currently contributing to a book about 1980s TV, film and pop culture.

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