Glorious 39

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Glorious 39
Glorious thirty nine ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stephen Poliakoff
Produced by
  • Barney Reisz
  • Martin Pope
Written by Stephen Poliakoff
Music by Adrian Johnston
Cinematography Danny Cohen
Edited by Jason Krasucki
Distributed by Momentum Pictures
Release date
  • 20 November 2009 (2009-11-20)
Running time
129 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £3.7 million

Glorious 39 is a 2009 British war thriller film written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, starring Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, Jeremy Northam, Christopher Lee, David Tennant, Jenny Agutter and Eddie Redmayne. The film was released on 20 November 2009.

On the eve of World War II, as the formidable Keyes family tries to uphold its traditional way of life, daughter Anne sees her life dramatically unravel when she stumbles upon secret recordings of the pro-appeasement movement.[2]


In present-day London, Michael Walton visits his cousins, Walter and Oliver Page. Interested in family history, he asks them about his great aunt, Anne Keyes, the sister of his grandmother, Celia. Anne, an actress, was the eldest of the three Keyes children. Desperate for children, her father, Alexander, a Member of Parliament, and mother, Maud, had adopted her. However, Maud subsequently gave birth to Ralph and Celia. Michael is curious to learn what happened to Anne, which leads Walter to reminisce about the summer of 1939, at the Keyes' estate in Norfolk.

On Alexander's birthday, Anne has prepared a table in the garden to celebrate. Anne's friend, the outspoken MP Hector, and lover, the reserved Lawrence, are present for the festivities. When Alexander arrives he brings a guest, the quiet government employee Joseph Balcombe. During dinner Hector rants about Britain's lack of action against Nazi Germany. It is later revealed that he has been one of those calling out for a new prime minister.

The next day, while looking for a cat in one of the property's sheds, which are off-limits as they are used for storing Alexander's private papers, Anne finds gramophone records labelled "Foxtrot". These prove to contain recorded meetings and telephone conversations. Alexander reveals that he has allowed Balcombe to store government documents in the shed.

Two weeks later, Anne is notified that Hector has been found dead, from an apparent suicide. Anne wonders if Balcombe had anything to do with Hector's death. Alexander brushes off the idea, but does offer to ask Balcombe to remove the records from the shed, something he promises to do the next day during a picnic. While there, the picnickers go for a walk, leaving Anne to watch over baby Oliver. She awakens to find Oliver and his pushchair missing. She follows his cries to no avail, and when the family returns, they search, until they find him in his pushchair on a lane. Anne denies moving the baby, but the incident plants roots of doubt about Anne's word.

Balcombe removes the records that night, but Anne secretly keeps two of them. The family then returns to London because Parliament has been recalled. While there Anne listens to the records. One contains a recording of a distressed Hector pleading with Balcombe to cease calling him and his parents. However, the maid bursts into the room, which causes the gramophone to fall and the record to break into pieces. On 1 September Anne gives a second record to her fellow actor and friend Gilbert. He is later found dead from apparent suicide.

Anne travels back to Norfolk to keep Aunt Elizabeth company, where she listens to the second recording. On it she recognises Balcombe's voice, along with that of her brother, Ralph. Ralph is heard suggesting the name "Thin Man Dancing" for a covert operation; a reference to a childhood toy. At a party in London, Anne attempts to tell Lawrence of Ralph's involvement, but he already knows. Lawrence convinces Anne to bring him the recording at a rendezvous at a suburban veterinary surgery. After Anne finds Lawrence's body in a shed filled with euthanised pets, she escapes and gives the recording to a child, who promises to post it to Churchill. She is subsequently recaptured, drugged by her father and held prisoner in Aunt Elizabeth's house, which is close to St Paul's Cathedral. Balcombe pays her a visit and shows her the second recording, which he had intercepted. He tells her that it had been made for her father. He also informs her that their house in London is being used for series of pro-appeasement meetings that her father is chairing.

Alexander later admits to her that he believes Britain will be destroyed unless it secures an early peace with Germany. He says that she is the only member of the family that does not share his beliefs, which is why they are keeping her secure. They deprive her of water and leave her to die. But, after some time, Maud releases her while the rest of the family is at the park. Anne goes past them, and when they act as though nothing has happened, she runs away.

Back in the present, Walter tells Michael that Anne had died in Canada twenty years ago, and that he had just been doing what his family and Balcombe had wanted. It is then revealed that Balcombe had convinced Walter to move Oliver's pushchair into the lane. Michael asks Oliver and Walter to accompany him to meet his mother. They travel to the same park where Anne had last seen her family. A woman, Michael's mother, wheels an elderly woman towards them. That elderly woman is Anne, and Michael tells them that he knew the truth all along but wanted to hear it from them.



Much of the filming took place in Norfolk, where the film is set.[3] Filming began in late October 2008 and concluded in December 2008.[2]

The ruins of Castle Acre Priory and Walsingham Priory feature prominently as favourite haunts of the Keyes siblings. Other locations include the Cley Marshes, Holkham Hall and Houghton Hall.


  • The Daily Mail: "For a thriller, the pace is much too sedate, and it's easy to lose patience with a heroine who is this slow on the uptake. As a director of child actors, Poliakoff is hopeless. Worst of all, he seems not to have seen many movie thrillers in the past 20 years, for the pacing is pedestrian and the camerawork static, more redolent of bad episodes of Midsomer Murders than modern cinema. Verdict: Poor script and laboured direction sink fine leading performance."[4]
  • The Guardian: "Stephen Poliakoff's pre-second world war conspiracy thriller never zips the way it should, but it's still a solid, old-school entertainment."[5]


  1. ^ "GLORIOUS 39 (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 2 October 2009. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Stephen Poliakoff's feature film 1939, featuring stellar line-up of UK's finest acting talent, starts shooting". BBC Press Office. Retrieved 15 January 2011. 
  3. ^ Kiss, Jemima (3 November 2008). "Stephen Poliakoff shoots first feature film in a decade". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
  4. ^ Tookey, Chris (20 November 2009). "Bumbling villains, a clunky plot - run, Romola, run". Daily Mail. London. 
  5. ^ Brooks, Xan (27 October 2009). "Glorious 39 – London film festival review". The Guardian. London. 

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