Went the Day Well?
|Went the Day Well?|
Theatrical movie poster
|Directed by||Alberto Cavalcanti|
|Produced by||Michael Balcon|
|Written by||Graham Greene (story)
|Music by||William Walton|
|Editing by||Sidney Cole|
|Distributed by||Ealing Studios|
|Release date(s)||7 December 1942 (UK)|
|Running time||92 minutes|
"Went the Day Well?" is a 1942 British war film 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 Nazi paratroopers. Made during the war, it reflects the greatest potential nightmare of many Britons of the time, although the threat of invasion had largely receded by that point. (Germany's planned invasion, Operation Sea Lion, had been indefinitely postponed.) It includes the first major role of Thora Hird, and one of the last of C.V. France. The village location for some scenes was Turville, Buckinghamshire.
During the Second World War a group of seemingly normal British soldiers arrive in the small, fictitious English village of Bramley End. 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 civilians attempt to escape to warn the local Home Guard, but are betrayed by the village squire, who is revealed to be collaborating with the Germans, who ambush and kill the Home Guards. Eventually a young boy does succeed in escaping and, despite being badly wounded, alerts the army. British soldiers arrive, and aided by some of the villagers who have managed to escape and arm themselves, including a group of Land Army girls, defeat the Germans after a short battle. The squire is shot dead by the daughter of the vicar, who was murdered by the commander of the German soldiers.
The film is set post-war and told in flashback by a villager (Mervyn Johns) sitting in the churchyard where the German soldiers are buried. He speaks directly to the camera, which, during the opening credits, moves towards the village along a road, eventually arriving at the churchyard and being ushered toward a grave monument. The villager explains, "This is the only bit of England they got" (a reference to the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson's famous words to the invading King Harald Hardrada of Norway).
- Leslie Banks as Oliver Wilsford, the traitorous squire
- C.V. France as Vicar Ashton
- Valerie Taylor as Nora Ashton, the vicar's daughter
- Marie Lohr as Mrs Fraser
- Basil Sydney as Kommandant Orlter, alias Major Hammond
- 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
- Hilda Bayley as Cousin Maude
- Edward Rigby as Bill Purvis, the poacher
- Ellis Irving as Harry Drew
- Grace Arnold as Mrs Owen
- David Farrar as Lt. Jung, alias Lt. Maxwell
- John Slater as German sergeant
- James Donald as German corporal
Opening quote of the film 
Went the day well?
We died and never knew.Went the day well?
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.
The epitaph is by the classical scholar John Maxwell Edmonds, and originally appeared in The Times dated 6 February 1918, page 7, under a short section headed Four Epitaphs. It is the second of four epitaphs composed for graves and memorials to those fallen in battle – each covering different situations of death. The second epitaph is headed:
"On Some who died early in the Day of Battle"
Went the day well? We died and never knew;
But well or ill, England, we died for you.
After the above date, the epitaph was regularly quoted in The Times' notification of deaths section in connection with those who have fallen during the First World War. It appeared again regularly during the Second World War.
Inscriptions suggested for war memorials, published in 1919, listed 'Went the day well' along with Edmonds’ other epitaphs, after which it appeared on numerous town war memorials.
There has been confusion between 'Went the day well' and Edmonds’ other famous epitaph published in the same 1919 edition of inscriptions:
When you go home, tell them of us and say,
“For your tomorrows these gave their today.”
It is "When you go home ..." that was inspired by an epigram by the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos to the fallen at the Battle of Thermopylae, and was later used (with a misquote) for the memorial for those who fell at the Battle of Kohima. Some resources incorrectly give "Went the day well" as being the translation of the Simonides epigram.
In some quarters, "Went the day well" has been incorrectly married up with "When you go home …":
When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, these gave their today.But, well or ill, freedom, we died for you.
Went the day well? We died and never knew,
"Went the day well" appeared in an unidentified newspaper cutting in a scrapbook now held in the RAF Museum (AC97/127/50) and in a book called Voices of Silence, a collection of First World War poems put together by Vivian Noakes, under the heading Verdun, The Battle of the Somme begins.
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. In 2010 an article in The Independent (London) commented, "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 (London) 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." 
See also 
- Duguid, Mark. "Went the Day Well? (1942)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
- "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.
- Sutton Publishing 2006 ISBN 0-7509-4521-4
- Nield, Anthony (6 September 2003). "Went the Day Well?". DVD Times. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
- "Went The Day Well? (PG)". The Independent. 9 July 2010. Arts & Books, p. 9.
- 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.
- Houston, Penelope. Went the Day Well? London: BFI, 1992 ISBN 0-85170-218-6