Turning Tide

By Andrew Muir | Drama
A young boy encounters a downed German pilot after witnessing a large aerial battle.

Ten-year-old David lives in Scotland during World War II. One day, he is outside with his mother one day when a huge fleet of German warplanes flies above him after a bombing raid, which is quickly followed by a group of British Spitfires. The awe-inspiring sight turns into a large aerial battle, and the plane-loving child follows it as one downed plane crashes nearby.

Setting out to find the enemy warplane, David witnessed a pilot escaping the wreckage, immediately running away. David follows, leading to a life-changing encounter.

Writer-director Andrew Muir’s short historical drama has a visual sweep and ambition that is reminiscent of the grand old-fashioned studio pictures of Hollywood, with gleaming, beautiful light, sweeping camerawork and an almost epic sense of panorama. What’s striking at first glance is how handsome the look and feel of the film is, and while the images are crisp and pristine, the film language itself seems almost nostalgic in its classicism.

But while the visuals — accompanied by a rich orchestral score — possess an almost old-fashioned grandeur, the narrative register focuses on a small, almost poetic encounter between the young protagonist and an enemy soldier, which changes his understanding of war. The film takes its time to set up the time period and place, situating David in history, family and community, but the heart of the film rests on a central conflict between him and the fugitive soldier, who escapes the wreckage.

This encounter is rendered with little dialogue, as the pair of characters try to understand one another’s intentions and capabilities. Tension, curiosity and discovery are deftly built up and revealed in this mostly silent conversation, both in the writing and in the performances. Young actor Patrick McLoughlin captures both David’s sense of curiosity and appealing innocence, and his reaction to the soldier has both an openness and a wariness that feels true to character and situation. The soldier is played in turns with a cryptic wariness, a drive to escape and a guarded sense of latent humanity.

The interaction between David and the German soldier isn’t overly sentimentalized — there is no overdetermined realization of mutual humanity, for instance. But when the pair are finally discovered by the larger community, the emotions quickly escalate, and so does the suspense. And while the German soldier chooses one way, David’s fellow villagers choose another path — one that seems more shocking than the aerial battle he just witnessed. The violence is fleeting, but its intensity is jarring and distressing, for both viewers and David — and it deeply affects David’s understanding of what war really means.

“Turning Tide” ends with a subtle — and perhaps almost too elusive — set of images, one whose meaning is decoded when compared to the sweeping symbolism of the film’s beginnings. Instead of gliding his toy planes in the air in imitation of the ones that have flown majestically above him, David has set them down — and put away perhaps his reflexive awe at what is essentially the machinery of war, having seen up close what that enmity entails.

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