Sunday, 1 April 2012

Murder and the Post Office

"Went the Day Well"  (1942) is a dream of a film.  It is based on a short story by one of my favourite authors, Graham Greene, and features a young Thora Hird.  A tale about the Home Front in World War Two, it shocks with a very sinister turn of events.

That sinister turn of events is the invasion of an idyllic English village by a division of Nazi parachutists.  All trained to sound just like 'one of us' and disguised as a platoon of British engineers, the villagers are at first fooled into accepting them into their homes and village hall.  Their true provenance and motives are soon outed though, and the beastly Hun round up the villagers and hold them hostage.  How frightening this must have been to contemporary audiences in those dark days of the early '40s, when invasion did seem imminent.

If  this film gives us one true insight into the life of a British village in WW2, it is into the role of the Post Office.  This is at the hub of the village and the events that unfold.  It holds the key to the villagers escape from the jackboot poised above their heads.  It is the only means by which people can communicate with those who don't live nearby.  It is the telephone exchange -all calls must be put through there in these days before direct dialling.  It is where the telegrams and post arrive and are despatched.  Our modern Post Office seems to be slowly being wound down, so it is surprising just how crucial it once was.

During the film the jolly plump postmistress is murdered while attempting to make contact with the outside world.  This is where the film really takes a turn for the sinister.  If you weren't taking it seriously up to that point - then you will when the friendly, half familiar figure takes a bayonet for her country.  It is as if Greene is telling us that if you kill off the Post Office, you kill off much more besides - the means to come and go freely, to talk without fear.

It's true that we don't need the Post Office a quarter as much as we once did.  This demise has been brought on by Orwellian rather than Greenian means.


  1. Yes, all those men with unconvincing working-class English accents. But that was British cinema in the 1940s for you! ;)

    I've seen this film a couple of times and agree that it is genuinely sinister, and must have seemed infinitely more so at the time. Truly, we don't know we're born nowadays.

  2. Yes it did cross my mind that there was a total lack of regional accents among the Germans which is pretty poor planning on their part! Surely people noticed and got suspicious! It is an interesting reflection of British cinema at the time. It seems that the only accents allowed were those of well known characters such as George Formby and Gracie Fields - those who tended to play themselves rather than proper actors.