Wodehouse in Exile

11May16

I’ve read exactly one P.G. Wodehouse novel and found it amusing, but haven’t felt compelled (at least, not yet) to read others. But I’m glad I recently saw Wodehouse in Exile, a new BBC drama. The film has stayed with me for assorted reasons. First, it’s interesting to see the record set straight after all these years. Caught behind enemy lines during the Second World War, Wodehouse did a series of radio broadcasts meant to show the English spirit still survived, but it conveniently helped the Nazis try and portray themselves as gentlemen rulers. Questions, and accusations of traitorous behaviour followed Wodehouse for the rest of his life because British government reports that concluded he was innocent were not released for decades.

Also, it isn’t a flashy film, but it’s a good script, and solid performances portraying people caught up in the war (for a change, rather than the decision-makers behind the war). After the German army captures France, a soldier knocks on the front door of the Wodehouse home. “What does he want?” his wife asks, and Wodehouse lightly jokes, “World domination, I expect.” Even the German soldier knocking on his door seems flustered and slightly arrogant rather than hateful, and while we all know horrific things happened throughout the war, it’s a smart script that manages to give you people rather than caricatures. The war arrives like a sudden storm, complete with German soldiers on motorcycles driving through the garden, and some of the Germans seem as helplessly caught up in it as Wodehouse. Without giving away too much, the film portrays people on both sides only too happy to participate in the war, even as others on both sides are portrayed as people who’d be happier to go home and read a good book.

Finally, it has stayed in my thoughts because it’s a portrayal of a man doing his best to ignore the war, and when finally forced to acknowledge it, he greets it with humour, civility and even gentleness. Of course, it’s like lighting a candle in the wind, but there’s something noble in the attempt, and the viewer — something else intelligent about the script — is left to decide if Wodehouse was hopelessly  naive or a principled, remarkably rare individual. Link to a review here. Found at the Toronto library on DVD. When are you getting it, Netflix?

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