In the National Interest received 5 stars in BIAFF 2008.
It was also selected as part of the programme to represent Britain at the
UNICA 2008 Festival, where it won a Gold medal.
The making of
IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST
Unlike most classified documents, intelligence papers are not reviewed
for publication after 30 years. They remain secret for ever. However, sometimes
official researchers are allowed to read "redacted" (edited) documents. The
Anglo-Polish Historical Society was given such access to prepare an official
report on intelligence co-operation between the two countries during WWII.
This half-opened a window into some of the most secret decisions of the War.
Much of the report (which, incidentally, carries a foreword by both Prime
Ministers) concerns the huge amount of intelligence information provided
by the Polish resistance - the Home Army. This included the first Enigma
machine obtained by the Allies and exploited so effectively by the mathematicians
at Station X in Bletchley Park.
However the report also makes reference to a visit to London in 1942 by a
member of the Home Army, Jan Karski. He gave an eye-witness report of the
extermination of the Jews in the concentration camps, yet Britain's intelligence
chiefs refused to accept his evidence, discounting the existence of the
holocaust. William Cavendish-Bentinck, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence
Committee, the main co-ordinator of intelligence in the 1939-45 war, summed
up the views of the British intelligence hierarchy. He thought the Polish
reports on the German atrocities were not credible. According to the information
obtained from the intelligence archives he stated that they were "exaggerating
the German atrocities, and did so 'to stiffen our resolve'". Moreover, the
new official history says: "As Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee
and thanks to Enigma, Cavendish-Bentinck had access to the decrypted German
police and SS reports which also mentioned the persecution and genocide of
the Jews on the territories held by the Germans. This was a clear validation
of Polish and Jewish information". Roger Allen, a high ranking Foreign Office
official who worked closely with Cavendish-Bentinck during the war, "refused
to believe that the Germans used gas chambers in Germany to murder people".
Karski's testimony was kept secret. In the War Cabinet minutes concerning
Karski's report, all references to the Jews were deleted and, when Eden wrote
to Churchill on the subject, he also removed everything which mentioned Jews
This film presents an account of the crucial meeting of the Joint Iintelligence
Committee that heard Karski's graphic report, yet decided to conceal it from
ministers. Subsequently, we learn that the cover-up continues to the present
After over a year's research, including correspondence with the Imperial
War Museum, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and other bodies worldwide,
I prepared the first outline of the script. Drafting the script was by far
the hardest part of the film making. I wanted to convey the enormity of the
decision to leave the Jews of Europe to their fate not through horrific images
or impassioned speeches but as a cold, rational process. Even Karski was
to present his information dispassionately - knowing that his case was best
made by the facts. Only Zygielbohm could be allowed to reveal his emotion.
He was the Jewish representative in the Polish government in exile in London
and his wife and son were in Warsaw. (He later committed suicide on learning
that they had died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He left a suicide note
"against the indifference with which the world looks at the destruction of
the Jewish world, looks on and does nothing to stop it.").
Secondly, I did not want to demonize Cavendish-Bentinck. He shouldered a
heavy responsibility and exercised his duty in the way he thought to be in
the best interest of the country that he served. Had it been known that 6
million lives were at stake; perhaps the decision would have been different.
And perhaps the war would have been lost: at the time there was a real fear
that Stalin might sue for peace and leave Germany fighting on only one front.
This was real life not Hollywood. No black and white or good and bad. Just
shades of grey.
Thirdly, I wanted the film to contain faint echoes of the decision to go
to war with Iraq, where an assessment of the national interest influenced
the interpretation of intelligence information.
Once you have a compelling story and a coherent script, good actors are the
third vital ingredient of a fictional film. We advertised on the website
and received responses from about 40 actors willing to work on an
expenses-only basis on a film that they hoped would contribute to their
showreels. We auditioned about a dozen of them and were fortunate to have
some very strong actors to fill the lead roles.
An important characteristic of a film maker is that he should have no pride
- or, at least, he should put the film above all else - because you spend
more time begging and pleading than at the actual shoot and never more than
in trying to secure locations. My first choice as a location was a beautiful
William Morris room in Henley Management College, which occupies a Thames-side
house previously owned by a Mr. Smith (W.H.!). A friend who lectures there
got me a meeting with the Facilities Manager who kindly agreed to let us
film there over Easter. Unfortunately, however, one of the lead actors was
in a West End production that put on extra performances over Easter. Given
the choice of location or actor there is no contest. So we looked elsewhere.
We then approached Sue Ryder Homes, who have a lovely old house in the Chilterns
called Parmoor. Again they were very supportive because Sue Ryder was heavily
involved in helping Polish ex-servicemen settle here after the war. (She
was later appointed to the House of Lords as Baroness Ryder of Warsaw). But
the only suitable room in Parmoor was rather dark with little space for the
camera. We therefore approached the Marian Fathers, a Polish Catholic order
based in Henley. The Father Superior agreed because the film was about a
Polish war hero. This gave us access to a most beautiful library in Fawley
Court, a house built by Christopher Wren. I learnt later that it was available
for hire for wedding receptions together with the adjacent reception
room for £2000 a day!
In my previous existence (in Whitehall) there was a saying that "the devil
is in the detail". It's true! Who can lay their hands on a 1942 slide projector?
How do we conceal the actual projector and the cable to the computer used
to show the slides as a Powerpoint presentation? Where can we hire a General's
uniform and who will collect it? Don't forget the water glasses for the meeting
table and the mock up of an intelligence dossier and the front
page of a newspaper and a notice for the meeting room door and
does anyone want vegetarian meals the train times from London to
Henley the "Filming in progress" signs
Hoorah. At last we were off to the location with a car stuffed with props
and an antique table to stand the projector on tied to the roof. And, yes,
everyone turned up: 7 actors, 3 cameramen and me. The room was set and the
3 identical (FX1) cameras white balanced and all with the same settings and
then we hit the technical problems! This beautiful library had 3 huge
floor-to-ceiling French doors along one wall and the morning sun was streaming
in, burning out one side of the image. The "right" answer, of course, was
to infill with lights on the other side and at least double the shooting
time. So, instead, we partially closed the shutters, to reduce the contrast
without losing too much light, and pressed on. Then there were the lovely
17th Century oak floorboards that squeaked when anybody moved. No problem
when the actors move - just authentic ambient sound - but the cameramen and
the director had to learn quickly to stand very still. And, finally, the
walls were lined with bookshelves, which looked great, but they were
glass-fronted, providing perfect reflections of the cameras, microphones
and the director! Many of these had to be removed in post-production using
The shooting took place over 2 days. On one of these we brought in only the
two lead actors and shot their long speeches without other actors present.
This saved some money and avoided asking the actors to hang around doing
very little but, given the choice again, I would not have done this. Even
if they say nothing, the other actors give the lead actors the right eye-line
and provide visual feed-back, so making their delivery more convincing.
The scene in which Karski presents evidence of the holocaust was central
to the film. I wanted the audience to feel uncomfortable watching this
presentation but I did not want to use horrific images of the holocaust.
Instead, I wanted him to be so intent on giving his evidence that he would
be oblivious to walking in front of the projected images. My intention was
to achieve a disturbing effect by projecting the images onto Karski's face
where they would appear slightly distorted.
So far I have talked only about the scenes set in 1942. In order to be able
to draw a parallel with recent decisions based on intelligence, I decided
to put this in the context of an archivist/censor digitizing official films
in the current day. Technically, this was fairly straightforward to film
but involved a great deal of work in post-production, dropping the archive
film and computer frames onto what were blank screens.
All we needed was a studio with a Steenbeck film reader. So in the margins
of a club visit to Ealing Studios, I knocked on the door of an editing studio
and had the most excruciating conversation with a disembodied voice on the
entry phone. No, they were far too busy to let anyone film there. However,
a young man standing next to me, having a smoke on the pavement, said he
would approach a pal who worked in Soho. I gave him my mobile number and
we ended up in one of the biggest editing studios in the country. (They were
colour grading the latest James Bond movie upstairs). I never cease to be
amazed at how helpful people are when you're trying to shoot a film. One
more day's filming and it was in the can.
Like all sad film makers, I then spent several months huddled over a computer
in the spare bedroom - trimming and filtering, masking and tracking, titling
and sound editing. Eventually, DVDs had been burnt for the actors and a premiere
screening held in the dining room. A little over 3 years from inception a
copy was in the post to Brian Dunkley for inclusion in BIAFF 2008 and the
rest, as they say, is history
My sincere thanks to my long-suffering wife, Hilary, Producer, Kate Dooley,
Director of Photography, Geoff Addis and additional cameramen Laurie Joyce
and Brian Hibbitt.
Company Limited by Guarantee No. 00269085. Registered Charity No. 260467.
Authors' views are not necessarily those of the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers.
Art work by Tony Kendle.