It Happened Here is a legendary movie made by very young filmmakers about what would have happened if the Nazis had invaded Britain successfully. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo started working on the project when they were 18 and 16 respectively. It’s an alternative history/science fiction film that ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest production schedule (8 years). Its record has long since been surpassed, of course.
It’s exactly what you’d expect—the Nazis easily take over, but there’s a small resistance movement brewing. The film focuses on Pauline, an apolitical Irish nurse played by Pauline Murray. Operation Avalanche, a faked found-footage film about the ‘faked’ moon landing, used the same tactic of using actors’ real names for their character, which probably works well when employing non-professional actors, as Mollo and Brownlow mostly did. The plot centred on Pauline is probably the weakest part of the story, and the overall plot is all over the place—but these narrative flaws don’t matter, what’s remarkable is what they were able to get away with! They got to know Stanley Kubrick, who liked their idea and donated some leftover film stock from Dr. Strangelove. Tony Richardson, who at that point was one of the leading British directors, helped them get the film through the final stages of production.
One of the reasons It Happened Here works as well as it does is that the directors were able to get one of the greatest cinematographers ever, Peter Suschitzky, on board—it was first project! Suschitzky saw the film as his calling card, and it soon led to work with Peter Watkins He also later did The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a film that looks better than should, which is entirely down to him, Empire Strikes Back and every David Cronenberg feature since Dead Ringers. His talents definitely elevated the film.
The directors pulled in a cast of hundreds, which includes a few professional actors although no one got paid. A lot of the extras were British science fiction fans. Their ballsiest move was that a lot of the British fascists in the film were actual British fascists, and several of the German soldiers were ex-SS and Wehrmarcht.
It’s a remarkable little film that has some obvious current relevance with the current far-right resurgence in Britain. It kick-started the intriguing careers that the directors later pursued: Brownlow became one of the world’s foremost film historians and a documentarian, and Mollo is an expert on military uniforms and has worked as a consultant on many films.
The disc includes a full version of the fake German newsreel seen in the film, a 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with commentary by Kevin Brownlow, various archival documentary clips about the film, and several new interviews. These include Joanna Roeber, who was a production assistant. There’s also an hour-plus interview with Brownlow himself on the history of the film. An image gallery, UK and US trailers, and a large booklet with writing on the film by Brownlow and various others fills out the package.