“De Gaulle” (M) *** and a half
ON June 18, 1940, the BBC provided four minutes of airtime for French general Charles de Gaulle to address the people of France.
De Gaulle had recently been promoted to brigadier general and named as Under-Secretary of State for National Defence and War by Prime Minister Paul Reynaud during the German invasion of France.
There had been no advance notice of the broadcast (nor was it recorded) and few French citizens living in England heard it – at that time, few Frenchmen had heard of him.
Nevertheless, history regards the speech as a formative moment of the French Resistance that gave the occupying Germans so much discomfort until they went home four years later.
Its fabric embraces the political ructions in Paris that saw de Gaulle confronting defeatists Marechal Petain and, to some extent, Gen Weygand.
Its immediate fallout was on August 2, 1940, when a French military court tried and sentenced him in absentia to death, deprivation of military rank, and confiscation of property.
Short of a brief coda telling about how Charles was reunited with his wife Yvonne and their children after a hazardous escape in the only one of three ships carrying refugees that left Brest on the same day that reached safety in a British port, that speech and the savage sentence form the climax of writer/director Gabriel Le Bomin’s film.
The film rightly sees Churchill’s wartime relationship with de Gaulle as understanding and helpful (sadly, the words of actor Tim Hudson’s portrayal of Churchill are more convincing than the physical resemblance.)
I found the film profoundly interesting. As long as I can remember, I perceived de Gaulle as a pebble in the shoe of Anglo/French relationships. Lambert Wilson plays him with admirable conviction. As Yvonne, Isabelle Carré confronts adversity with great fortitude, not the least of which is her youngest child, 12-year-old Anne, born with Down syndrome. Playing Anne, Clémence Hittin is great. At the time covered by the film, Anne had only another eight years to live.
Being French or familiar with the history of those four months isn’t a prerequisite to finding “De Gaulle” satisfying, even rewarding.
At Palace Electric