'Land Girls' a somber, life-affirming portrait of the civilian toll of war
A vivid depiction of the havoc war reaps on human heart, "The Land Girls" is a touching, pensive and lightly funny account of life in the Women's Land Army, a British World War II regiment that sent young volunteer women to work rural farms while the farmers were away at war.
Blessed with a wonderful cast of rising English stars "The Land Girls" follows life on the agrarian front through the eyes of three varied recruits working a small farm near Dorset.
Heavy with the aroma of uncertainty that war brings, "Land Girls" percolates with an unspoken fear of 1) invasion and 2) never seeing loved ones again, that brings out the emotional defense mechanisms in these young women.
Catherine McCormack ("Dangerous Beauty") plays Stella, a sensible, judicial gal with a dispassionate fiance in the Navy she feels compelled to stand by. She silently copes with her home front dread by turning pensive, often staring silently into a field or watching with trepidation as the evening sky ignites with the lightning-like bursts of distant air raids.
Cheeky, randy Prudence (English soap star Anna Friel) finds her release from rolling in the hay with the farmer's son Joe (Steven Mackintosh), but later falls hard for a solider on leave, who is killed the day after they marry.
Prim and virginal Ag (Rachel Weisz, "Swept From the Sea," "Going All the Way") awkwardly tries to buddy up to her more common companions, addressing everyone as "old girl" and "old chap" in an attempt to shed her privileged coil.
Adapted by director David Leland from a 1994 novel by Angela Hurrah, "The Land Girls" the same English, slice-of-life, period flavor as "Wish You Were Here," his 1987 breakthrough film.
It starts out playfully as Stella, Prue and Ag arrive to work the farm of one Mr. Lawrence (Tom Georgeson). The girls have a lot to learn about farming, and with Joe the only bachelor around, there's promiscuity in the air whenever their noses aren't to the grindstone. But as the film plays on, the war looms over every moment.
Slightly over-produced, with stormy blue-gray vistas of the English countryside that ring of a Kodak commercial and labor-worn make-up that's just a little too perfect, "The Land Girls" is nonetheless a handsome and emotional film.
Through these three women Leland paints a somber but life-affirming portrait of the civilian toll of war and its bitter twists of fate. Stella, Prue and Ag form a bond as they see each other through horror, sacrifice and fleeting happiness.
Although they look as though they might have been cast largely for their ability to appear comely in the unflattering WLA uniform -- thick sweaters, ill-fitting riding pants and heavy wool socks -- McCormack, Weisz and Friel are each absorbing in their perseverance and in their vulnerability.
Friel has an especially heartbreaking scene, crying uncontrollably in the bath after she loses her husband. But McCormack, a deft and radiant actress with a great future, gets the most screen time as Stella's story finds her falling in love with Joe but obligingly bound to her fiance after he is wounded.
Steven Mackintosh, who plays Joe, is superb as a strong male counterweight to the picture's decidedly feminine tilt. He takes ribald advantage of being the only eligible young man not off at war, but inside he's broken up over his dashed Air Force ambitions and his unexpected love for Stella.
Leland has accomplished something special here by portraying the emotional ravages of war without making a war movie. "The Land Girls" is about the sense of siege war brings to the those outside the theater of battle, and the power it has to tear asunder people's lives.