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!