Remember when Britain was invaded by the Germans during World War II? You might not be aware of it, but there is a memorial to those who fell in combat in the village of Bramley End where the event occured, and here is the story of what happened as one Saturday near the end of May some British troops entered the boundaries and announced to the villagers that the army was to stage some manoeuvres there, although it would not go much past that weekend. However, these soldiers were not British at all, but Germans in disguise, the spearhead of an invasion which they had been long planning...
Well, apart from the Channel Islands, Britain wasn't invaded by the Nazis during the Second World War, but Went the Day Well? was a propaganda item drawn from a Graham Greene story designed to prepare the United Kingdom's public for what might have happened should Adolf Hitler have decided to pursue this particular line of conquest. By the end of the conflict it was Britain which was invading Germany, and this film was not actually very well received by the establishment who felt it was far too hate-filled and violent - precisely the qualities which endeared it to the common moviegoer and made it a hit.
It may have had a message to convey, but a lot of people took it as a wartime adventure, and certainly over the years since the war ended, the film has accrued quite a few fans, including those in the establishment. It seems the main concern from the naysayers was exactly that theme, which stated that everyone in the country, male or female, young or old, owed it to their country to defend it by any means necessary, which involved sweet little old ladies grabbing an axe to hack a German to death, or plucky little boys receiving a gunshot wound in the course of his duty. The violence is not particularly graphic, but anyone familar with straight-talking public information films will know how to the point these scenes can be.
There was freedom at stake, after all, and in Ealing style Went the Day Well? champions the man or woman in the street, the typical British chap or chapess, as opposed to those who were in the higher echelons of society. Not all the upper classes are suspect here of course, but there is Oliver Wilsford (Leslie Banks), apparent leader of the community and local landowner, but actually a fifth columnist who has invited the Nazis to this small, unassuming part of the countryside as the ideal base of operations as they plan to signal the enemy forces. There was a worry at the time that there was a contingent of toffs who would welcome fascist rule, and the Wilsford character appears to back up that fear.
Once Wilsford has welcomed his Nazi major (Basil Sydney), they manage to keep the real reason these troops are here quiet, but the truth will always out and little slips, like using the Continental seven or concealing a bar of chocolate with "Chokolade" written on it arouses suspicion. Wishing to nip any revolt in the bud, the Germans round everyone up in the church, gun down the vicar when he tries to sound the bell for the alarm, and cut off all communications. We can see how ruthless these enemies are portrayed when they start slapping women about and planning to shoot five children when there's an escape attempt, which makes the Brits' need to reclaim their territory by savage means all the more important. There's even a sense of glee when the shooting starts at the finale, but the notion that even this idyllic hamlet will be under threat would have been the real point, even if audiences were watching mainly for the thrills. Music by William Walton.