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Enemy at the Door Set 1

Acorn Media // Unrated // February 24, 2009
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted February 17, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
There are countless untold stories about World War II, some of which would probably surprise a lot of people. If you asked the general populace if there were any U.S. mainland casualties during the conflict, probably 99.9% would tell you "no." And yet those of us who live in Oregon can tell you there were indeed--and tragically so. A minister's family stumbled across an unexploded Japanese shell while on a family picnic and several of them perished in the ensuing conflagration. There's a monument to their memory on the Oregon coast to this day. Similarly, people tend to forget that the Germans actually managed to occupy a portion of Great Britain, namely the Channel Islands, from 1940-45, setting up a fascinating sociopolitical dynamic between the islanders and their temporary captors. That relationship is the basis for the interesting if never overwhelmingly compelling British series Enemy at the Door.

Enemy at the Door concentrates on a few interrelated characters on the island of Guernsey, notably landowner Peter Porteous (Richard Heffer), whose unsuccessful escape attempt in the premiere episode sets him up as a sort of undercover operative on the island. Porteous is involved with Clare (Emily Richard), the headstrong daughter of island Doctor Martel (Bernard Horsfall). The Doctor is recruited early on to be part of the Committee which serves as the official intermediaries between the German occupying forces and the hapless islanders. On the German side of things we have the head of the occupying forces, Maj. Richter (Alfred Burke), who attempts to walk the fine line between relatively peaceful coexistence and outright domination. That fine line is no concern for Richter's underling Hauptsturmfuhrer Reinicke (Simon Cadell), the most patently evil of the characters and one who, while hyperbolically stereotypical in the best Nazi villain tradition, at least gives the audience a clear character to "hiss" for. There are numerous other supporting characters who waft in and out of the 13 episodes that make up this first series, but this is the core group around whom most of the stories coagulate.

While some of the war and thriller elements are tamped down, perhaps due to that famously stiff upper British lip, where the series excels is in depicting the odd almost ease with which the British came to accept their fate as temporary hostages of the Germans, even as some of them sought to escape the tyrants' oppressive presence. This is highlighted, perhaps a bit too obviously at times, in the frequent clashes between Martel, a "go along to get along" chap, and Clare, who positively fumes with fury at the mere thought of being called Fraulein by some passing German officers. It's not very subtle, to be sure, but it at least gives a clear dialectic from which British audiences at least can extract both sides of what was probably an impossible dilemma to begin with.

At times the series has a quasi-Gilligan's Island or, heaven forfend, Hogan's Heroes aspect to it, with a suddenly revealed "guest islander/POW" on hand for that specific episode. This becomes a bit tiresome at times, but does open up the series for other storylines, including a nifty sort of Sting setup when Reinicke sets up a trap for a British intelligence officer who has classified information the Germans covet. At other times, it's an obvious attempt to provide "Red Shirts" (to purloin a bit of Star Trek parlance) for characters who are obviously expendable.

The performances are uniformly excellent, though they tend to tilt either toward British stoicism or German sadism, with very little in between. Burke's Richter shows at least an inkling of nuance, with a lugubrious Continental air oozing out of what may or may not be a hard as nails foundation. Horsfall's Martel unfortunately is saddled with too much appeasement to ever make the character fully satisfactory, but the actor does a splendid job of portraying a man whose Hippocratic oath to "first do no harm" may color his sociopolitical agenda once he finds himself mediating between his countrymen and their occupiers. Heffer's Porteous and Richard's Clare make an appealing and believable couple caught in world shaking events, though the limited scope of the series leaves Porteous without any real earth shattering action elements, and that famous British reserve gets in the way of ever letting the lovers erupt into full blown passion. Richard does get the most of the fiery moments in this first series, with an endless supply of smoldering resentment. Cadell as Reinicke is the one true scenery chewer of the bunch, and makes the most of his patently evil character.

If Enemy at the Door is hobbled somewhat by the very reticent British character which itself probably allowed these people to survive such conditions, it at least portrays a lesser known aspect of World War II which served, in a way, as a very telling sociopolitical experiment of sorts. It found two disparate peoples forging an uneasy truce, even in the context of occupation, which allowed them both to have at least a pretense of what they were purportedly trying to get. If the Germans never completely capitalized on their occupation (for better or worse), similarly the English never rose to overthrow their captors, something they shared with the majority of the European kin at the time. Enemy at the Door therefore becomes the entire war in microcosm. If you can live without any big battle scenes, you have at least some fitfully compelling small stories here that provide some insight into the psychology of a captive population.


Enemy at the Door is, once again, your basic late 70s-early 80s British television full frame fare, meaning you'll be "treated" to filmed exteriors and videotaped interiors, with a noticable quality difference between them. While color, saturation, detail and sharpness are nothing to write home about anywhere in this series, in the videotaped sequences there is at least a passable quality level. Some of the filmed exterior segments are in pretty bad shape, with lots of abrasion, scratches and omnipresent graininess. All of this said, as I've repeated many times in my reviews of British television fare from this era, if you've seen anything from these years, you probably know exactly what you're in for and won't be too horribly disappointed.

The DD 2.0 is a step up from the image quality, as is usually the case. There's nothing exceptional here, but the bulk of the dialogue is crystal clear and easy to understand, underscoring is well reproduced (including the theme song which was a minor hit in the UK). No subtitles are available.

Disc four offers a text history of the Channel Islands' occupation, as well as a 2 minute clip from a more recent British series about the occupation, which is also available from Acorn.

Final Thoughts:
Enemy at the Door has an interesting premise built around a little known sidebar to the main conflicts of World War II. If its execution never quite lives up to that premise, it at least provides some insight into the British character in one of its more fascinating forced interactions with the Germans. Anyone with an interest in small scale war dramas might do well to Rent It.

"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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