Went the Day Well?

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Went the Day Well?
Went the Day Well Poster.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed byAlberto Cavalcanti
Written byGraham Greene (story)
John Dighton
Angus MacPhail
Diana Morgan
Produced byMichael Balcon
StarringLeslie Banks
Mervyn Johns
Basil Sydney
C. V. France
Valerie Taylor
Thora Hird
David Farrar
CinematographyWilkie Cooper
Edited bySidney Cole
Music byWilliam Walton
Distributed byEaling Studios
Release date
7 December 1942 (UK)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Went the Day Well? is a 1942 British war film adapted from a story by Graham Greene and directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. It was produced by Michael Balcon of Ealing Studios and served as unofficial propaganda for the war effort. The film shows a Southern English village taken over by German paratroopers, reflecting the greatest potential nightmare for the British public of the time, although the threat of German invasion had largely receded by that point.

The film is notable for its unusually frank, for the time, depiction of ruthless violence.


The story is told in flashback by a villager (Mervyn Johns): During the Second World War, a group of seemingly authentic British soldiers arrive in the small, fictitious English village of Bramley End.[1] It is the Whitsun weekend so life is even quieter than usual and there is almost no traffic of any kind. At first they are welcomed by the villagers, until doubts set in 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 vicar is shot while sounding the church bell in alarm.

In attempts to reach the outside world, many of the villagers take action. Such plans include writing a message on an egg and giving them to the local paper boy for his mother, but they are crushed when Mrs Fraser's cousin runs over them. Mrs Fraser then puts a note in Cousin Maude's pocket, but she uses it to hold her car window in place; her dog, Edward, then chews it to shreds after it blows onto the back seat. Mrs Collins, the postmistress, manages to kill a German with an axe used for chopping firewood, and tries to telephone for help, but the girls on the telephone exchange see her light and decide that she can wait. Mrs Collins waits, and is killed by another German who walks into the shop. The girl at the exchange then picks up the phone, but gets no response.

The captive civilians attempt to contact and warn the local Home Guard, but are betrayed by the village squire, who is revealed to be a long-time collaborator with the Germans. Members of the local Home Guard are ambushed and shot by the Germans. A young boy, George, escapes from the church. He is shot in the leg by a German, but manages to alert the British Army. British soldiers arrive, and – aided by some of the villagers, including a group of Women's Land Army girls, who have managed to escape, barricade themselves in, and arm themselves – defeat the Germans after a short battle. The squire is shot dead by the vicar's daughter, who discovers his treachery as he attempts to let the Germans into the barricaded house. During the battle, many of the villagers who left to fight are wounded or killed; Mrs Fraser saves the children from a grenade, at the cost of her own life, and Tom's father is shot in the arm and wrenches his ankle as he falls. The British troops then arrive at Bramley End.

The villager retelling the story to the camera shows the Germans' grave in the churchyard and explains proudly: "Yes, that's the only bit of England they got."




The film was based on a short story by the author Graham Greene entitled "The Lieutenant Died Last".[2]

The film's title is based on an epitaph written by the classical scholar John Maxwell Edmonds. It originally appeared in The Times on 6 February 1918 entitled "Four Epitaphs".

Went the day well?

We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,

Freedom, we died for you.

"Went the day well" also appeared in an unidentified newspaper cutting in a scrapbook now held in the RAF Museum (AC97/127/50), and in a collection of First World War poems collated by Vivien Noakes.[3]


This was the first significant role of Thora Hird's career, and one of the last for C. V. France.


Exterior scenes were shot on location in the village of Turville in Buckinghamshire.


The film reinforced the message that civilians should be vigilant against fifth columnists and that "careless talk costs lives". 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.[2][4] Anthony Quinn, a film critic for The Independent on Sunday, commented in 2010: "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".[5]


In 2005 it was named as one of the "100 Greatest War Films" in a poll by Britain's Channel 4. The 1975 book, The Eagle Has Landed, and the later film use some of the same ideas.[1][4]

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 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."[6] 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."[7]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on a Manufactured-on-Demand DVD on 9 July 2015. It was released on Blu-ray in July 2011 by Vintage Classics and subsequently in a set called "Their Finest Hour: 5 British WWII Classics" in March 2020.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "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. Archived from the original on 16 July 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  2. ^ a b Duguid, Mark. "Went the Day Well? (1942)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
  3. ^ Noakes, Vivien (ed.) Voices of Silence: the Alternative Book of First World War Poetry, History Press 2006. ISBN 0750945214
  4. ^ a b Nield, Anthony (6 September 2003). "Went the Day Well?". DVD Times. Archived from the original on 12 October 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  5. ^ Quinn, Anthony (23 October 2011). "Went The Day Well? (PG)". The Independent on Sunday. London. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  6. ^ Huddleston, Tom (8 July 2010). "Went the Day Well? Movie Review". Time Out. London. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  7. ^ Scott, A. O. (20 May 2011). "Bucking Up the British in the Midst of the Fight". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 June 2011.


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