Cockney Sparrow Seen in Canada
My hat goes off to director Lyndon Chubbuck because "The War Bride" is not only a surprisingly wonderful movie but also one which so easily could have turned into an overly sentimental chick flick. Now for those who are yet to watch this that may sound like a bit of surprise because we have a story of a London girl marrying a Canadian soldier during WWII and being given a permit to live in Canada with his family. But this is really a nostalgic tale of a woman moving to a new country where she isn't made to feel welcome but gradually manages to be accepted, dealing with the ups and downs of life, love, loneliness and so on. In a way think the nostalgic tale like quality to "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "The War Bride" has that same sort of quality but no so sentimental or romantic.
With London in the grip of the blitz Lily (Anna Friel - Rogue Trader) and her childhood friend Sophie (Julie Cox) meet Canadian soldiers Charlie (Aden Young) and Louie (Benjamin Boyd) at a dance and after a whirlwind romance Lily and Charlie marry with Lily quickly falling pregnant. With Charlie and Louie shipped over seas to fight both Lily, her daughter Lindy and Sophie find themselves classed as war brides and get permits to move to Canada. But whist Sophie finds herself part of Louie's wealthy family things are very different for Lily as neither Charlie's mum Betty (Brenda Fricker) or his sister Sylvia (Molly Parker - Hollywoodland) want Lily in there home and resent her. It makes life for Lily in a new country difficult especially when her bubbly personality rubs everyone up the wrong way and living on an isolated run down ranch just adds to her misery.
As already mentioned the real story of "The War Bride" is that of Lily and her daughter Lindy heading to Canada and finding herself not welcome. But before that we get a quick flurry of scenes in London as we meet Lily, her friends including Sophie and of course Charlie, the Canadian soldier who whisks Lily of her feet. It is very much a quick series of typical elements of war time life, the quick romance as Charlie is waiting to head to Europe, the air raid warnings, bombed buildings, the dances and so on. The time line of which is shall we say a bit hazy as we have in the space of 6 days Lily and Charlie meeting, getting married and then quite staggering Lily discovering she is pregnant. All of which is really just a quick set up before we get to the main storyline which is Lily in Canada and finding life tough.
Now there is something a little stereotypical about this main storyline as we watch Lily and baby Lindy arrive in Canada to find a frosty reception from Charlie's mum and sister. They don't like the brashness of Lily, don't like the way she dresses, don't like the fact she now gets Charlie's pay check and they are not the only ones as many of the people in the nearby town take exception to her. As such we watch as slowly Lily wins them over be it proving that she can help to Charlie's mum Betty, bringing his sister Sylvia out of her shell or befriending Peggy who has always had a thing for Charlie. It is simple stuff but it has a sense of nostalgic charm about it with out ever feeling too sentimental.
But of course we also see how much of a struggle it is for Lily, feeling alone and unwelcome, mocked and talked about behind her back and having only seen Charlie for 13 days questioning whether it is love. In many ways what we have are a whole list of problems that a war bride would encounter, especially one shipped to another country and watch them play out. Sort of running alongside this is that her friend Chloe also got a permit to go to Canada but where Lily ended up on a run down ranch Sophie ended up with a wealthy family highlighting how this move could be lucky for some and not so much for others.
The thing about "The War Bride" is that with its nostalgic tale quality and romantic sub plots it could so easily have become overly sentimental and romantic. And there are moments when we do get an overly sweet almost corny scene, the sort where it feels manufactured. But for the most director Lyndon Chubbuck has kept control of this side of things restraining the need to over cook emotion and makes it too obvious, he manages to keep that element of rawness to things so you do get a touch of true emotion.
As for the performances well you may remember Brenda Fricker as Betty for a scene where she drains a chicken of its blood but "The War Bride" is a movie which belongs to Anna Friel as Lily. Friel makes Lily such a bubbly characters, maybe a little to cockney sparrow at times but a vibrant character that is so easy to warm to. And as such when Lily finds it all a struggle in Canada you do feel for her and understand how she feels, how at times she wants to leave, wants to feel the touch of a man again and so on.
What this all boils down to is that "The War Bride" was a pleasantly surprisingly movie full of charm and nostalgia. It has that nostalgic quality of "Fried Green Tomatoes", that snapshot of a bygone era where there is hardship but under director Lyndon Chubbuck's guidance the sentimental element is restrained so that it never becomes too corny and cheesy.