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Glorious 39

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Title: Glorious 39  
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Glorious 39

Glorious 39
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stephen Poliakoff
Produced by Barney Reisz
Martin Pope
Written by Stephen Poliakoff
Starring Romola Garai
Bill Nighy
Julie Christie
David Tennant
with Christopher Lee
Distributed by Momentum Pictures
BBC Films
Release dates
  • 20 November 2009 (2009-11-20)
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Glorious 39 is a 2009 British thriller film written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff and starring Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, Jeremy Northam, Christopher Lee, David Tennant and Jenny Agutter. Filming began in late October 2008 and concluded in December 2008.[1] Much of the filming took place in Norfolk where the film is set.[2] It 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 (Garai) sees her life dramatically unravel when she stumbles upon secret recordings of the pro-appeasement movement.[1]


In present-day London, Michael Walton (Toby Regbo) visits his cousins, Walter and Oliver Page (Christopher Lee and Corin Redgrave). Michael, interested in family history, asks them about his great aunt, Anne Keyes (Romola Garai), the sister of his grandmother, Celia (Juno Temple). Anne, an actress, was the eldest of the three Keyes children; desperate for children, her father, Member of the House of Commons, Alexander (Bill Nighy) and mother, Maud (Jenny Agutter) had adopted her, however, Maud then gave birth to Ralph (Eddie Redmayne) and Celia. Michael is curious to learn what happened to Anne, which leads Walter to reminisce of the summer of 1939, at the Keyes estate in Norfolk.

On the day of Alexander's birthday, Anne has prepared a table in the garden to celebrate. Anne's friend, the outspoken MP Hector (David Tennant) and lover, the reserved Lawrence (Charlie Cox) are present for the festivities. When Alexander arrives that night, he also brings a guest, the quiet government employee, Joseph Balcombe, (Jeremy Northam). During dinner, Hector rants about Britain's lack of action against Nazi Germany, noting that while his view is unpopular, he feels that it needs to be said. 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 missing cat, Anne finds her in one of the property's sheds, which had been off-limits due to them containing Alexander's manuscript papers. She finds gramophone records labelled "Foxtrot," which upon listening, actually 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, of 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 picnic-goers take off for a walk, including Aunt Elizabeth (Julie Christie), leaving Anne to watch over baby Oliver. Anne awakens to find Oliver and his pushchair missing. She follows his cries to no avail, and when the family returns, they search, too, until they find him in his pushchair on a lane. Anne vehemently denies moving the baby, but the incident plants roots of doubt about Anne's word.

Balcombe removes the records that night, but Anne has secretly kept 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 also his parents. However, the maid bursts into the room, which causes the gramophone to fall, and the record to break into pieces. On September 1, Anne gives a second record to her fellow actor and friend, Gilbert (Hugh Bonneville), who is subsequently found dead from an apparent suicide.

Anne travels back to Norfolk to keep Aunt Elizabeth company, where she listens to the second recording. On it, she recognizes Balcombe's voice, along with another, her brother, Ralph. Ralph is heard suggesting the name "thin man dancing" for a covert operation. The name he suggested is a reference to a childhood toy with which the siblings played. This confirmed to Anne that Ralph is not to be trusted. 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 is drugged by her father and taken prisoner in Aunt Elizabeth's house which is close to St Paul's Cathedral. Balcombe pays her a visit, and brings with him the second recording, which was intercepted by him. He informs her that the recording had been made for her father, and that was why they were stored at the house in Norfolk. He also informs her that their house in London is being used for series of pro-appeasement meetings which her father is chairing.

Alexander later admits to her that he believes that Britain will be completely destroyed unless it secures a peace treaty with Germany, and that nothing should disturb that. Alexander tells her that she is the only member of the family that does not share his beliefs, which is why they are keeping her locked away and sedated. After some time, Maud unlocks the door to release her while the rest of the family is at the park. She goes past them, and when they act as though nothing wrong had happened, Anne runs away.

Back in the present, Walter tells Michael that Anne died in Canada 20 years ago, and that he was just doing what his family and Balcombe had wanted. It is then revealed that Balcombe 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 revealed to be Anne, and Michael tells them that that he knew the truth all along but wanted to hear it from them.



The film is set in Norfolk and was filmed there. The ruins of Castle Acre Priory and Walsingham Abbey are featured prominently as a favourite haunt of the Keyes siblings. Other locations used 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."[3]
  • 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."[4]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Kiss, Jemima (3 November 2008). "Stephen Poliakoff shoots first feature film in a decade". London:  
  3. ^ Tookey, Chris (20 November 2009). "Bumbling villains, a clunky plot - run, Romola, run". Daily Mail (London). 
  4. ^ Brooks, Xan (27 October 2009). "Glorious 39 – London film festival review". The Guardian (London). 

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