The War on Accents…

WHEN HANDS TOUCH

Directed by: Amma Asante

Written by: Amma Asante

Featuring: Abbie Cornish, Amandla Stenberg, George MacKay, Christopher Eccleston

Leyna is a bi-racial German girl living in the Rhineland, unfortunately she’s a Rhineland Bastard as her mother is German but her father was a black Senegalise. Not quite as big a target as the Jews nevertheless she faces being forcible sterelised along with having her education ended and being put to work. As the war moves on the Nazi ideology targets here more and more and her life is further complicated by a burgeoning love affair with a Hitler Youth. Can she stay under-the-radar and survive the war or will her fate be the same as many other minorities in Nazi Germany?

I’m a big fan of Amma Asante films which give me stories from a different perspective that has usually been swept under the carpet by history, mainly because the protagonists are black Africans and as most of European history has more or less ignored any contribution by them it is up to Amma and her contemporaries to shine a light on these stories that are often fascinating and amazing. In particular A United Kingdom which was frankly a superb film. Unfortunately into each life a little rain must fall and Where Hands Touch is a steady downpour.

The story is in itself fiction but is based on fascinating historical fact which few people were aware of prior to the film. Where this film falls far from it’s Asante stablemates is the frankly unnecessary and unbelievable love story that drives us through that period in history. Even more galling when the two ‘lovebirds’ are played by the very capable Amandla Stenberg and George MacKay.

None of the main actors, which include Abbie Cornish and Christopher Eccleston, are helped by the cod-German accents throughout the proceedings giving the whole thing a distracting ‘Allo ‘Allo feel about it. The Death of Stalin and The White Crow both prove there are ways around this that audiences can put up with. Eccleston in particular is all over the place with his von Smallhausen accent that if nothing else draws you out of the unfolding story.

This is not to say that as the tale moves along the average viewer will not be fascinated by the plight of these children that did live in Germany during the war years. They are less likely to be beguiled by the good Nazi and he extols pride in his country, slaughtering Russians but loving the black girl. I found nothing particularly believable in his characterisation and therefore everything he did had a whiff about it.

Overall When Hands Touch is a disappointing entry to her list of creations for Asante, not awful, just not as good as her other work. Whether it was constraints of time or trying to shoehorn an interesting narrative into a piece of history that had no recorded stories I do not know but somehow the whole thing felt rushed.

Some scenes seem almost like padding, with long conversations that go nowhere and drive at nothing and the acting does get patchy from character to character but that may have been the accents.

The less said about the incredulous Spielbergian ending the better, the film wants to be a love story with hard-hitting truths about the war but then stumbles at the final fence.

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