An English girl marries a German lawyer in the 1930s and they try to live as normal a life as they can in Hitler’s Germany.
Release Date: 16 November 1988 (UK)
Director: Adrian Shergold
Writer: Christabel Bielenberg, Dennis Potter
Cast: Elizabeth Hurley, Stephen Dillane, Geoffrey Palmer
There are plenty of movies that are fashioned after popular television programs. The adaptation of Christabel to the big screen from the BBC miniseries that ran in the late 1980’s is done flawlessly and without any type of crossover problems. A part of the PBS series Masterpiece Theater, the television dramatization Christabel was reworked from its original biographical form.
The idea for the miniseries came from Christabel Bielenberg’s autobiography called The Past is Myself. Bielenberg, a British born woman who has married a German man, lived during the German aggression and occupation of most of Europe. Her fight to free her husband from a Nazi concentration camp is a touching, poignant story that reveals her character, as well as the plight of the time period. Dennis Potter adapted the book as both a four part miniseries and a big screen production.
Starring in the role of Christabel is Elizabeth Hurley. An accomplished actress in her own right, the British born Hurley has had many roles in both television and cinema productions. Her role as Christabel is early in her career, but also a pivotal step into stardom. Her passion for the role can be seen as Christabel struggles with the day to day life of Nazi occupied Europe, wondering if her husband is still alive, and the frustration of seeing so many atrocities. Stephen Dillone plays Christabel’s husband, Peter Bielenberg. Both characters are brought to life from the pages of the autobiography to give viewers a surreal look at personal struggle.
Adrian Shergold, who also directed other British films like Pierrepoint, Persuasion, and Heat of the Sun, worked very closely with the producer, Kenith Trodd, to bring about the realism of the day. Using a combination of vignettes interlaced throughout the story and firsthand accounts of the events of the day, Christabel is not just a movie, it is a historical timepiece.
One of the reasons why Christabel is so moving, hard hitting, and through provoking is that the images are real, unblemished, and a stark vision of everyday people as they struggle with war. From eye view accounts of carpet bombing to hangings of friends, this BBC production is comedic flair that will have you laughing, crying, angry, and entranced all at the same time. There are times when a movie can have underlying tones, or a message, that the directors are trying to get across. In Christabel there is only one view. It is from the vantage of real people.
The director, screenwriter, and actors wanted to take an approach where the view is not political, but personal. This pays off with incredible dividends. Not only will you have conflicting emotions during the process of watching Christabel, but you will become friends with the characters as they are portrayed on the screen. You will find yourself liking, becoming attached to, and suffering as war ravages on. For anyone who has a passion for history, wants to see real account of European life during the war, or loves to see a good story, then Christabel is one you will watch over and over again.