Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Another Brilliant Opportunity

Following my academic suggestion yesterday, today I present an idea for a very exciting film, should anyone reading this be looking for such a thing.

I got it from the 28 April issue of the London Review of Books, which carried a review by RW Johnson of a number of books dealing with the subject of nuclear weapons. As well as inadvertently providing a possible - if rather radical - solution to global warming, via a war between Pakistan and India:

'If they were to throw all their nuclear weapons at one another, with a total yield of around 1.5 megatonnes - less than that of many individual thermo-nuclear weapons in the American and Russian arsenals - the smoke from the fires would rise into the atmosphere and take ten years to dissipate. The earth would be returned to the conditions of the "little Ice Age" in Europe between the 16th and mid-19th centuries...'

the article also contains an account of the Allied attempts to foil the Nazis' nuclear programme, parts of which I can imagine becoming a thrilling action film (although that, I have to admit, is not actually a genre about which I know anything much at all):

'A key part of the Nazis' nuclear programme was the heavy water production facility at the Norsk Hydro fertiliser plant [yes, I know it doesn't sound very riveting just yet, but be patient] near Rjukan in the wilds of Norway. The British did their utmost to destroy it. The first recourse was to get Norwegian Resistance sympathisers at the plant to sabotage it by pouring castor oil and cod liver oil into the electrolyte. The Special Operations Executive, however, had not told the several saboteurs of one another's existence, with the result that they overdid it. The whole plant had to be shut down in April 1942 and the Germans discovered the sabotage, which made it harder to do again.

By this time Churchill and Roosevelt had designated the Norsk Hydro a top priority target. The Resistance strongly counselled against a bombing raid because it would lead to major civilian casualties. But a commando raid would be difficult: in winter it would be prohibitively cold and in summer there wouldn't be enough hours of darkness. In November 1942, two British bombers towed in a 34-strong commando force in gliders [imagine that as a cinematic image]. They were to be met by a Resistance group and would then attempt to demolish the plant. It was a complete disaster. One plane and both gliders crash-landed, with many casualties. The survivors were all caught, interrogated and executed by the Gestapo: some were shot; others were throttled with straps and had their chests crushed before being killed by having air injected into their bloodstreams [personally I would have this all happen off-screen, but I suppose it depends on your style as a director].

In February 1943 [and this is where, I think, the action of the film should really begin, if you want sheer joyous adventure] a smaller team of specially trained Norwegian commandos was parachuted onto the desolate Hardanger Plateau in temperatures of -30 degrees Centigrade. The Hydro plant had to be approached across a suspension bridge over an unclimbably steep ravine. If they attempted to storm the bridge, the shoot-out with the guards would raise the alert. The answer, it was decided, was to climb the unclimbable - down into the ravine and up the other side - then set explosives all round the plant and escape via the same impossible route. The operation worked and they all got away safely. The German commander, surveying the damage, said it was "the finest coup I have seen in this war".'

But stop, there is more. Hidden away within the same review I see the makings of a potentially interesting play or long television drama as well. It concerns Werner Heisenberg who led the Nazis' bomb programme. After the end of the war in the European theatre, 'the British put him and most of his nuclear co-workers together at Farm Hall, a country house near Godmanchester, and bugged their conversations as the news of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs came through.' The threads of that could make for some quite interesting drama - the Germans in the house, possibly their encounters with the locals in Godmanchester, and the listeners and their evolving understanding of those they were listening to.

So there you are: two ideas for free. Just a small credit is all I ask, if anyone ever gets any of them up and running.

Oh, and did you know that 'Nuclear weapons require a lot of maintenance: they cost the US alone $50 billion a year'? It's quite a lot of money, when you think about it.


  1. I'm afraid the first film's already been done:

    I remember my dad taking me to see it at the pictures.

    The second one might be good though. Maybe a sort of sequel to Michael Frayn's Copenhagen.

  2. snap peterJ - Heroes of Telemark is one of those movies that is ALWAYS on at christmas

  3. And double snap Peter J and Worm: Kirk Douglas's cleft chin in a Norwegian jumper is an abiding image.

  4. I'm glad my instinct about what might make a great movie was right, although my lack of knowledge about the genre clearly let me down. I don't want to see it done with Kirk Douglas anyway but, sadly, a remake today would probably dwell on all the disasters beforehand, in grizzly detail - and mention the fact that all the good work of the ravine conquerors was quite quickly undone anyway.

  5. And, yes, re the other, I'd thought something Michael Fraynish, Copenhagenish, Peter J - although I was hoping I might actually understand this one.

  6. It was remarked by a physicist that the Allies should have held a quiet celebration when they learned that Heisenberg was running the German effort. As a theoretician he was ahead of Oppenheimer; as an organizer he was not at all in the running.

  7. The Heroes of Telemark is a rather disappointing film, but I suspect that any remake would be far worse, with Kate Winslett as a feisty SOE operative and a former member of A-ha as the local resistance leader

    The more I read about this subject, the more I realise that the Second World War happened at exactly the right time. If it had started a few years earlier, Germany would have been easily defeated with little damage to its industrial infrastructure, enabling another arms build-up - this time with nuclear technlogy.

    I dread to think what might have happened if WW2 had started in the early 40s - imagine V2 rockets armed with atomic weapons.

  8. Steerforth: 'The Heroes of Telemark is a rather disappointing film, but I suspect that any remake would be far worse, with Kate Winslett as a feisty SOE operative and a former member of A-ha as the local resistance leader' - has a horrible authenticity to it.
    Re war timing, I suppose a better time altogether would have been not at all, but then you'd have to go back and prevent WWI, and I've never been able to work out how that could be done, even though it was all senseless