Following Amazon Prime’s recent dramatisation of Philip K Dick’s “Man in the High Castle”, and BBC’s current drama called SS GB, there is clearly a vogue for alternative history imagining a Nazi victory over Britain in World War Two.
It is worth rembering the compelling and controversial “It Happened Here”, a 1960s semi-amateur feature by Kevin Brownlow of what Britain would have been like under Nazi occupation.
Here is a review I wrote of it in 2008
The premise of the film is that Britain was conquered in 1940, and the film is set in 1944 when military resistance to the occupation has began to resurface. What makes the film so remarkable is that it is centred around the experience of collaborators, in the fictitious but all too believable, Immediate Action movement, some of whom are British fascists, some of whom are pragmatic people just seeking to work within the existing political framework, and some are ordinary people misguidedly pushed towards supporting the Nazis through having been caught in the crossfire of anti-fascist partisan violence.
Because of course the political lesson of saying “it happened here” is not that Britain could lose a war and be occupied; but that there would have been willing British hands to participate in pogroms of the Jews, persecution of trade unionists and communists, and murder of the sick and infirm. The genius of the film is the mundanity and domestic familiarity of the British collaborators.
In some places the acting is a little creaky, and the film starts a little slow by modern standards, but is has a great deal of verisimilitude, and is actually thoroughly gripping. Indeed, the film had a little too much verisimilitude and was very controversial because it used real fascists to play key roles, and even included a six minute section where Colin Jordan, leader of Britain’s fascists in the 1960s plays the role of a collaborator being questioned about his anti-semitic beliefs. This section was removed from the original cinema release but is restored to the DVD version.
This of course raises the question of under what circumstances it is permissible to provide fascists with a platform to put forward their views. There is no doubt that the six minute section with Colin Jordan makes very uncomfortable viewing. But the overall context of the film is deeply anti-fascist, and exposing the strong sympathy that the then contemporary fascists had for Hitler’s Germany, and the fact that the British fascists in the 1960s were prepared to boast that they would indeed have been collaborators in an occupation, did more to discredit the fascists than build support for them.