Wartime love stories
Posted on: Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Wartime love stories, real or in fiction, touch the heart like none other. The tales of romance and passion that have emerged from the two world wars of the last century have lasting public appeal. Danger and the fear of death not only sharpens emotions and propels complete strangers into each other’s arms (and beds) – it also makes for great box office.
Thus it is no surprise that writers and directors still today turn to stories of wartime love to create books and films just as they have done for the last eighty years.
Casablanca is the perfect example. Filmed entirely in a Hollywood studio in a matter of weeks and released in 1942 it gave Humphrey Bogart his first romantic role and propelled the unknown Ingrid Bergman to stardom. The studio churned the film out among many others that year unaware that they had launched an enduring love story on the world.
Beneath an irascible and crusty exterior Bogart movingly portrayed the heartache of a man sacrificing the love of his life for a higher ideal. It was one of his finest performances well matched by Bergman’s misty eyed sex appeal. Throughout the film the menace of the Nazis and the distant drumbeat of war acted as an aphrodisiac for actors and audience alike.
Real love affairs were even poignant especially when played out against the backdrop of the London Blitz. The blackout provided perfect cover for illicit liaisons most of which were more to do with casual sex rather than romantic passion. But love (or sex, you choose) was certainly one way Londoners of all classes coped with the daily toll of death and destruction around them.
And it was during the blitz in early 1944 that a love story ended when a bomb struck a flat in Belgravia. Muriel Wright, a beautiful and well known socialite of 29, died in the blast. Her body was identified by the naval intelligence officer with whom she had been having an affair for nine years. His name was Ian Fleming. True to his sadistic and, some would say, misogynistic character Fleming had repeatedly betrayed Muriel with other women. Her family were outraged. Fleming was unrepentant. But in death Muriel Wright achieved what she had been denied in life. Mortified and finally aware of his love for her Fleming modelled the heroines of his Bond books on the beautiful woman he had treated so badly.
The secret agent Odette Sansom, and her lover Peter Churchill met while both were working for the Special Operations Executive in occupied France. The year was 1942. They fell in love – a romance enhanced by clandestine meetings in safe houses and mountain hideouts. Their affair did not prevent arrest and torture by the Nazis.
The couple only survived because Churchill claimed he was a nephew of the prime minister (he wasn’t) and Odette by saying they were married (they weren’t).
With much fanfare Odette and Churchill, by now garlanded heroes, married after the war in 1947. The inevitable film titled “Odette” however did not do justice to the drama and romance of their undercover lives. Perhaps no film could have. Trevor Howard and Anna Neagle played the SOE roles in the film released in 1950. A few years later one of the great love stories of the war ended in sadness. Odette and Churchill divorced.
British films about the war which appeared from the 1950s onwards usually featured a weak romantic story with the lead lady playing the wife waiting nobly at home. Appointment in London starring Dirk Bogarde is a classic of this genre.
However one of the best British war films, The Way to The Stars, is also one of the great love stories of the era. Starring Michael Redgrave and Basil Radford the film is set in a bomber command base from 1942 onwards. The story is skilfully layered and every part beautifully acted. Rosamund John makes a fine leading lady gazing upward with just a hint of a tear at the nightly roar of the planes.
But at the end it is the pilots and their crew that we come to love and for whose sacrifice we weep. A memorable take on a story of love and loss in a time of war.
The paperback edition of my historical romance novel Midnight in Berlin
is released on 23 Feb 2017. Pre-order now: http://amzn.to/2i5RVY5