1944. Wehrmacht soldiers marching through London, German police band playing "Horst Wessel" in Trafalgar Square...
Of all 'what if?'s, the fuel for alternate history, the most important is 'what if Germany has won the war?' Imagine the United Kingdom sharing the fate of France and other Nazi-occupied countries. More than half a century ago, two young Englishmen started to imagine. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo were their names. It took them eight years to turn a spark of fantasy into a full-length movie.
I already wrote about importance of alternate history for our genre and Robert Harriss' indirect contribution to Dieselpunk. "It Happened Here", filmed in the early 1960s, is very different from "Fatherland" (published in 1992).
Set in 1944/45, the story focuses on an apolitical Irish district nurse, Pauline. Following an upsurge in partisan activity in her area, she is forcibly evacuated from her village by the Germans and their collaborators, and witnesses an attack on the German forces by a group of British partisans, during which a number of her friends from the village are killed in the crossfire. The attack, and more particularly the deaths, later influences her views and decisions.
She is evacuated to London, where she reluctantly becomes a collaborator, joining the medical wing of the "Immediate Action Organisation" (IAO) -a politicised paramilitary responsible for policing, and is re-trained as an ambulance attendant. Although at first reluctant and intent on remaining apolitical, Pauline begins to show the effects of fascist indoctrination in her behaviour. It is a reunion with old friends (an antifascist doctor and his wife) that gives Pauline pause and when she subsequently discovers they are harbouring an injured partisan she reluctantly agrees to help...
The film opens with the statement: "The German invasion of England took place in 1940 after the retreat from Dunkirk". After months of fierce resistance and brutal reprisals, the occupying forces manage to restore order, largely suppressing the resistance movement.
However, due to demands from the Ural Mountains front, most German troops are eventually removed from Western Europe, and the garrisoning of Britain is largely carried out by local volunteers to the German army and the SS. England appears to be governed by the British Union of Fascists (the situation in the rest of the British Isles is unclear but presumably similar); the followers are referred to as "Blackshirts", wear uniforms with the Flash and Circle, and a framed portrait of Oswald Mosley appears in a government building, alongside one of Adolf Hitler.
Meanwhile, the United States, having entered the war, stations its U.S. Seventh Fleet off Ireland and begins bombing raids on the southwest coast of England, as well as supplying men and equipment to a resurgent partisan movement. Whether Ireland itself is occupied by the Americans or Germans or manages to remain neutral is not made clear.
There is an internal prequel in the form of a German newsreel telling the story of a beautiful friendship between two great nations, English (sic!) and German. Steampunks will be pleased by the scene of Cable Street battle (no spoilers, just watch!). In terms of historical credibility, this amateur production is more sound than many money-stuffed war movies. Scores of WWII history freaks volunteered authentic uniforms, weapons, cars - and themselves for the cast. A number of proffessional actors, being part of British sci-fi fandom, volunteered too. There's something Dieselpunk about it, isn't it?