Monday, 8 July 2013

Two Thousand Women

Before we start, it’s worth pointing out that ‘Two Thousand Women’ is nowhere near as titillating as it sounds. It’s a strange film, in fact, an uneasy blend of comedy and drama, the origins of which are uncertain. I’m assuming that the subject matter was prompted by D-Day and the liberation of thousands of British women who had been held in internment camps in France since the beginning of the war. The internment camps were hard, but they were not prison or concentration camps, a whole other level of deprivation. Here, a huge spa hotel is used to hold the women – a luxury resort turned enforced holiday camp, albeit one ringed with barbed wire and armed guards.

Not exactly Colditz.

The women are of all types and all classes, and this allows some plum roles for Gainsborough Studios roster of semi-forgotten British lovelies: Phyllis Calvert, Patricia Roc, Jean Kent, and for other familiar faces like Dame Flora Robson, Thora Hird and Renee Houston.  The women are interned simply because they are British and the Germans don’t like that but, although they are no longer free, they are mainly left to their own devices, with the odd Nazi agent planted amongst them to keep an eye on things.

Nun no longer on the run.
The main thing that strikes you about the camp is the noise and how busy everyone is. Within minutes of arriving, the new internees are being offered cups of tea as dozens of women traipse into their room with buckets of hot water so that they can have a bath. Hundreds of hands are shook, and everyone introduces themselves in that clipped, rattling, shrill pseudo-ironic, wildly witty way that people talk in these sort of films. They’re being kind, of course, and keeping themselves occupied, but, after a few minutes, I’d probably jump out of a window.   

Things plod along for a while until a British plane cashes in a nearby wood and some of the crew take shelter in the camp. What’s interesting is that the air crew are absolutely dependent on the good will of the women, but treat them like shit from the off, ordering them about, taking the mickey out of them and being sex pests. What’s worse is that the ladies seem to like it. The pilot, for instance, takes a fancy to Patricia Roc and, within minutes, despite the fact that she is a novice nun, tells her that she is going to marry him and that she can choose whether they live in Dorset or Devon. He then forces himself upon her, and she puts up a rather desultory fight before giving in to it and agreeing to everything.

Gor blimey!

Wartime Porn was also rationed.

Thora Hird does her 'well, I never' face.

Disguised Airman.

Pushy Pilot.

The last half hour is enlivened by bursts of action: an escape attempt, the Germans get nasty and start kicking doors in, a camp show (in every sense), a murdered German soldier playing cards and, best of all, a fight to the death between a stripper and a Nazi spy. The fight is fast and vicious, and a lot of inner thigh is on show. It’s a strangely violent climax to what has been a fairly gentle film, the brutality of war in a microcosm of ripped nylons and hair pulling.

Bastards. Those are lovely doors. 

A matter of life and death.

Too much information...

Interestingly, there are nowhere near two thousand women in the film, although we do only get to see a small part of the camp. The Americans, perhaps thinking it might cut costs, renamed the film ‘One Thousand Women’, although there aren’t a thousand either. It was a funny time, really, people were thinking about other stuff.

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