Blitz & Bananas – The First Review

Movie Review

by

LEE RELPH

To say Blitz & Bananas was a labour of love for Anna Littler would be an understatement. Inspired by tales of World War II from friends and family, Anna set about retelling those memories, with a little added creative whimsy to create a film which, by amateur standards, is a true epic. Almost two years plus in the making, the film – made with the help of volunteers from Orpington Video & Film Makers, friends, family and locals alike, Blitz & Bananas had its premier at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley on Sunday April 1st 2012 in front of a capacity crowd of around 700 people, with a second screening taking place later in the day.

It’s 1940 and the Smiley family are among the latest victims of Jerry’s recent raid. Headed by ARP Warden father Stan (Roarke Alexander), the Smileys arrive at their new home with the youngest daughter Bessie (Bethan Fry) the most unsettled. She and her sisters discover a number of lost items whilst exploring their new surroundings and decide to return them to their original owners in “Operation Knockdown Ginger”. Meanwhile elderly couple Clarence and Emily Spratt (Brian Murphy and Linda Regan) have lost everything and are resorted to living in Emily’s cousin house. Among the most cherished of their lost possessions is a silver pocket watch which belonged to their late son, another war casualty. Elsewhere young sibling evacuees Albert and Maisie Webb (Alex and Maisie Littlechild) find themselves shuttled about from their home in London to the stables of strict Mrs. Horrobin (Cherie Hamlett-Smith) who in turn dumps them on her well off daughter, doctor’s wife Mrs. Honeyman (Sue Gray).

The story is a multi-layered and is potentially hard to follow as it jumps between thread, but like all good yarns, it comes together in the end – a credit to Anna’s writing, creating as she has a well crafted script, which on the surface looks like a collection of random threads all of which subtly intertwine with one another, leading to a satisfying conclusion. Even the subplots concerning a romance between eldest Smiley daughter Pearl (Olivia Jackson) and the Honeyman’s son, RAF pilot Ronnie (Adam Gray), a birth, the disappearance of Mr Bond’s (Derek Allen) bowler hat, the secret heartbreaking plight of Mrs. Kendal (Anna Littler herself) and of course the importance of the titular banana are all congruent to the overall theme.

The film opens with a very well structured montage featuring genuine photos of some of the devastation suffered during the blitz in and around the Bromley area, setting the tone for the extremely high level of authenticity of the props, costumes and set pieces achieved throughout the film – something even the big budget Hollywood productions often fail to do. From genuine cooking utensils to authentic period clothing and motor vehicles of the era, the attention to detail is one of the more striking and memorable facets of the production as a whole – and all done on a meagre budget and plenty of goodwill from many friends and volunteers.

War isn’t an easy subject to make light of, especially from a retrospective point of view, yet there is a stream of gentle humour which flows through this film to lighten the mood in juxtaposition to the many hardships and tragedies that war brings. Being as they are based on real life stories their poignancy is doubly effective for the viewer and no doubt deeply resonant for anyone who lived through such times themselves. It is important to note that as an amateur film maker, Anna resisted the temptation to not over do the dramatic scenes and spares us from mawkish sentimentality, instead relying on conveying true emotion in its simplest form.

The majority of the cast may not be professionals but everyone seemed to inhabit their roles with a keen understanding, although one suspects the younger cast members simply enjoyed playing dress up and going on what must have seemed like a whacky adventure. Despite TV legend Brian Murphy and his wife Linda Regan (both of whom gave their time for free) being on the cast list, it is young Bethan Fry who is the star of the show, her infectious dimply grin and boundless enthusiasm permeates through the screen to touch the hearts of the audience. If she decides to make acting her future profession, remember where you saw her first! A special mention is also due for the soundtrack by Adam Bird an evocative and very much well suited for the images it supported.

Once the end credits roll, one has completely forgotten this was a production by “a bunch of amateurs” as they have been thoroughly entertained and captivated for 90 minutes by a powerful tale of life during a horrific era of British history told from the perspective of the simple folk for a change, and not a shameless flag waving propaganda piece you’d find from the big studios. It would not be too much of a stretch to suggest that this film be shown as part of the national curriculum for the school kids of today, since it is both educational as well as entertaining and would make a great visual companion to the history texts currently taught.

Anna Littler has done herself proud with Blitz & Bananas, as indeed has everyone who contributed to the making of this film. If you missed either screenings – or if you simply want to see it again – then be sure to order a DVD copy from either Anna or Chris Coulson. You won’t regret it!

**EDIT** – OVFM members wishing to order the DVD can bring their completed order form and payment to the next club meeting on Tuesday April 10th.

16 comments on “Blitz & Bananas – The First Review”

  1. anthony scarrott

    Unlike Lee Relph I did not find the Blitz and Bananas movie hard to follow, I found the continuty was very well done!
    If I had to “nit pick” it would be the amount of times fade to black was used, otherwise it was near faultless.

    I had a thoroughly good time and at times a few tears welled up at certain memories of those days(albeit I was born in June just after the war in Europe ended) but I stll have my Ration Book.

    Congratulations must go to all concerned in the making of thsi movie, surely it is good enough to go on a small Cinema circuit somewhere,seems to good to waste on a one off performance.The Duke of Yorks Cinema here in Brighton comes to mind for one.

    At the end we had the usual speeches which were kept short thankfully as they do tend to spoil a good thing,this was followed by the statutory raffle which had a final mystery prize which judging by the comments around me most people had guessed that it was a hand of Bananas,this bought tumultuous applause and laughter from the packed house.

    Again I say well done to all and I look forward to further movies from you!

    The haunting background music is still reverberating in my brain.

    • Lee Relph

      Thanks for your comments Anthony.

      I should point out “in my defence” that I did say “potentially” about the story since there were many threads to follow. As someone who worked on the film I can tell you that none of us could see where the story was going from the point we got the script to the actual shooting, but Anna clearly did and brought it together wonderfully, as I said.

      I will also concur with the constant fade to black which were vastly overused, but on the whole there was an impressive production and Anna should be proud of herself.

  2. Mike Shaw

    Totally agree with Anthony’s observations – a superb film with plenty of sub-stories and themes cleverly intertwined to hold the interest throughout, and all brought to a happy conclusion. I also loved the use of the credit ‘time’ to display (some of) the true stories on which the film was based – an excellent touch. My single observation (not a criticism) also relates to the number of times fade-to/from-black was used: it is a film metaphor for a passage of time and served that purpose well. But…
    On another tack, the colour grading, the background music, superb.
    Well done Anna for putting it all together so creatively and competently. It is well worth all the effort and those late late nights!

  3. Adrian Appley

    I managed to get one of the last three tickets available for “Blitz and Bananas” and was mighty pleased I did. As a local historian who was born in the middle of the Second World War I cannot recall anything about the war but used to play on bomb sites and in bombed out buildings around my area in the late 1940s [I have lived in the same Chatterton Road house for 69 years]so had to see the film. I was not disappointed as it really was a superb show in every way what with the display outside the theatre and the top class acting and story line. It was also very moving and something I will never forget. If I had known about everything two years ago I would have offered my assistance but I only knew about it a few days ago. Well done to you all.
    Yours in gratitude and admiration,
    Adrian Appley.

  4. DEREK ALLEN

    I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of people who have telephoned me to say how much they enjoyed B & B. At least three ladies admitted that they had tears in their eyes (I bet that there one or two men as well!)
    Congratulations to Anna for not only producing an excellent film, but by ensuring that all the details such as clothing and vehicles were authentic, even the phrases that people used in 1940, were so different.
    Having been a driver in the Volunteer Light Rescue Service during the Blitz, I saw a mistake that pobably no-one else noticed but I can assure you that there were less mistakes than in TV dramas such as Midwives
    and Downton Abbey.
    I hope that the film gets the much wider showing that it deserves.

  5. DEREK ALLEN

    My aapologies for part of my comments appearing twice. I HAVE YET TO GET THE HANG OF MY NEW lAP-TOP

  6. Richard Pugh

    I thought that Anna had done a truly marvellous job. She has every reason to be proud of what she has done. It must have taken a lot of courage and blind faith.
    The audience buzz after the show indicated to me that everyone had thoroughly enjoyed the show

  7. Bill Dudman

    My wife and I watched and really enjoyed your film after being invited by Anne and John Epton. However I think I noticed one small dialogue error within the “raffle” sequence. When the girls handed over their pennies it was stated that the amount was £43:15s:0d, this would have meant they had sold 8,700 tickets by which time the banana would nave been inedible!I may have misheard it though!

    regards, Bill Dudman ( Retired DOP BBC Ealing Studios)

    • Lee Relph

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your comments. Actually you’re not the only one to remark on the total of the ticket sales but I think we can put this down to a little creative licence! 😛

      • Chris Coulson

        Never one to allow facts get in the way of a good pedant, BUT…..
        A) You don’t know how much the tickets were being sold for, and
        B) we know of a historical fact from a radio interview about another child’s raffle for a banana that raised £200!

        🙂

  8. John Epton

    Lee – I thought your review was excellent and I have already sent the website page to quite a number of non OVFM members who were interested in the outcome.
    I was particularly impressed by the fact that the review appeared on the website before I got back home from the Churchill!

    Excellent work.

  9. Barbara Walker

    I loved Blitz and Bananas. Having been part of it at times behind the scenes, I really had no idea how this film was going to knit together and turn out. An absolutely mammouth task for Anna and Chris too. I never see the flaws as I always get so caught up in the story. The kids were natural actors. Ahuge success!

  10. John Bunce

    It was once said that the definition of an audiophile was someone who sat in front of loud speakers and listened for hum.
    That analogy could be applied to some filmmakers who watch a film but only look at the technical aspect of how it was shot and edited.
    I think the mark of a successful film is if the viewer is so absorbed in the story being depicted in front of them, they become unconscious of the technicalities involved in the making of the film.
    Blitz and Bananas had that effect on me. The film flowed well and gave a pretty good insight as to how things were during the 1940’s. I was only 5 years old in 1941 and can remember vividly being on the receiving end of the daily bombing of London and witnessing the massive destruction of property and the loss of lives.
    I played ‘Knock-Down Ginger’ exactly as those children in the film did but we also put ‘smoke bombs’ through the letterboxes of people we didn’t like.
    I think Anna and all those who took part in producing this film deserve the highest praise. Yes, one could nit-pick about certain aspects but that goes for almost any film and this one is in need of very little tweaking to satisfy the perfectionists among us.
    The film brought beck memories to me, and, I hope, will give a good insight to today’s young people how things were.

  11. Pingback: Blitz and Bananas Film Premiere…The Evidence | Orpington Video and Film Makers

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