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Another Mother’s Son is based on the true story of Louisa Gould, a woman who sheltered an escape Russian slave worker during the Nazi occupation of the British Channel Islands. Directed by Christopher Menaul and written by Gould’s great nice Jenny Lecoat, Another Mother’s Son has an inspiring and moving tale to tell, one that sometimes feels a bit too stiff and mechanical in its execution.
In 1942, The Channel Islands were the only British territory to have fallen under Nazi rule. Local shopkeeper Louisa Gould (Jenny Seagrove), is a widow and mother of two sons who are off fighting in the war, and she, along with many other residents, are having a very difficult time. The German soldiers are requisitioning property, they’ve imposed a curfew and they’re looking for any reason to deport the locals. Despite this, Louisa decides to help escaped prisoner of war Fyodr Polycarpovitch Burriy (Julian Kostov), whom she names Bill.
Easily the best thing about Another Mother’s Son is the performances. Seagrove’s portrayal of Gould is a particular highlight – she is stoic and defiant, but also kind, nurturing and supportive. Her desire to help Feodor who is clearly born out of the emotional trauma of losing one of her own sons to the war and that leads to a complicated and interesting relationship between the two. Kostov is easy to sympathize for and the movie gets props for casting an Eastern European actor in the role. Bulgaria is not the same thing as Russia, but he looks and sounds the part.
The supporting cast members are also should not to be overlooked. Amanda Abbington plays Louisa’s sister Ivy and John Hannah gets the most out of the small, but key role of the postmaster Harold, who is very conflicted about the situation and also has to wrestle with his consciousness when he starts receiving letters from the locals that exposing their neighbors to the German soldiers.
Where Another Mother’s Son struggles is the storytelling, mainly because the emotional register can sometimes feel too calculated. A scene of Louisa, Ivy and a friend laughing and singing and being merry is then immediately followed up by a sad moment when Louisa learns that one of her sons has died. In fact, nearly every time someone starts to smile or have a good time in the movie, it feels like it’s setting up the immediate fallout. Louisa finally convinces Feodor to go outside and they go for a nice bike ride – suddenly there’s a German roadblock in the way. Louisa’s family and friends are celebrating with Feodor – suddenly German soldiers knock on the door. It becomes very predictable, which not only deflates the tension but makes it hard to invest emotionally.
Other times, scenes just come across as too detached. When Louisa first hears about Feodor, she refuses to help on account of her own troubles. This is then immediately followed by a scene with a group of locals discussing whether or not it’s right to mistreat dead or wounded German soldiers. There’s a logical flow there and you can see how that affects Louisa and makes her change her mind, but it feels too heavy handed. Scenes like that come across as chess piece storytelling – it adds up in terms of the narrative and the characters, but lacks the emotional impact it should have.
Despite these problems, Another Mother’s Son still has a cohesive and compelling story to tell, with a number of solid performances to back it up. It certainly feels like a romanticized take on the true story, but there is a definite emotional and moral complexity to the characters. It’s not without faults, but it is earnest in its efforts to celebrate an unsung hero.