Whilst the world raves about Deutschland 83 there’s another gem hidden on Walter Presents, Channel Four’s new online home for foreign drama. Résistance – focusing on the resistance movement within Nazi occupied France during the Second World War – is a French series that’s just as powerful, provocative and heart-wrenching as the best the British airwaves have to offer.
At the centre of Résistance is Lili, a teenager from small town France who has moved to Paris looking for independence from her father and his stifling views. Arriving in Paris she works at Le Musée de l’Homme and becomes involved with the resistance group that operates from the museum. In the opening episodes the world of resistance seems full of shadowy figures, hidden behind codenames, with connections in not just museums but brothels, bars and local government. But as the series progresses these shadows become our friends and when the Gestapo threaten to destabilise the resistance movement the tension strikes right at the audience’s core. I can’t be the only person who watched the conclusions of multiple episodes in floods of tears.
Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the drama is just how young many of the resistance fighters are, especially given that the programme is based on real events. Most are twenty or younger, though this is easy to forget given the gravity of their actions. But when we suddenly see characters with their families, or are privy to Lili’s yearning simply to have a normal relationship with her boyfriend – fellow resistance fighter The Kid – it becomes tragically clear that these are young people of our own age. Lili often talks about her “war age” and her “real age” and, in the later episodes in particular, we see the toll constant action has taken on her. These are young people willing to risk everything to achieve freedom and very often that risk leads to the worst of consequences. But there is hope in the series too; their lives may have been blighted by war, but that doesn’t stop them living.
Like the best of period dramas, Résistance both evokes its historical moment beautifully but also asks questions of its audience that remain very relevant today. The role of violence, and when it’s right or wrong to kill, becomes the most significant of these. The resistance activity that Lili and her friends are involved in transitions from the distribution of newspapers and attending marches and vigils, to assassination and the bombing of Nazi buildings. So are our heroes terrorists? Perhaps they are. But the serialised form of a television series allows Résistance to brilliantly evoke the sustained pressure of living under Nazi occupation; there is more oppression and threat in a single episode than is found in most films. We become immersed in this culture of repression, so that we can understand why Lili may resort to violence to break the stupor, even if we can’t entirely condone it.
Unbeknownst to me Résistance was given an airing on TV, though More4 is perhaps not the best venue for a programme to launch a popularity bid from. I hope that Walter Presents proves a better platform and allows a wider audience to experience this intensely evocative piece of drama.
Main image from entertainment.ie