19 January 2014

Movie Review: Christopher and His Kind


This movie was BBC made-for-television bioflick. It's about the story of British-American writer Christopher Isherwood during his time in Berlin of the early 1930s. Isherwood was a mentor of another famous British-American writer, W.H. Auden, who has occasionally been described as the most important writer in English of the twentieth century.

Isherwood follows Auden to Berlin where the Nazis are on the rise. He makes friends and tutors English to make his living. He tutors a wealthy Jewish store owner who encourages him to take a stand against Nazism, which Isherwood refuses to do because it is outside of the artistic "sensibility." Isherwood has fallen in love with a street sweeper named Heinz. Because he helps Heinz financially, Heinz's mother tolerates the relationship and Isherwood's other friends. But when she leaves for the sanitorium, Heinz' Nazi sympathizing, unemployed older brother, bans Isherwood and his kind from the house. Nazism becomes more prominent in the story. The wealthy Jewish store owner's house and stores are ransacked and subject to a Nazi boycott, etc.,. Isherwood decides to leave Berlin and take Heinz with him. When Heinz is unable to secure permanent residency in Britain, Isherwood promises to get him back.

(Douglas Booth plays Heinz)

The movie fast-forwards to the early 1950s where Isherwood and Heinz reunite in Berlin. Heinz is now married and has named his son after Isherwood. Heinz says his wife is understanding and will accept Isherwood "joining" the family so that he doesn't have to grow old alone.

Isherwood declines but they remain in contact until Isherwood publishes this very autobiography to which, we are told at the end of the film, causes Heinz to end his communication with Isherwood. Isherwood entered into a life-long partnership in California, around the same time as reuniting with Heinz, with Don Bachardy who is a now well-known artist.

Since I didn't know much about the life and times of the literary greats of the twentieth century, this movie was interesting. I had only vaguely heard of Isherwood's name before watching it so I felt like it was education. My only concern is the narrative inevitability of Nazism's rise in 1930s Germany. Isherwood was disengaged from politics and much of social life at the time until he witnessed book burning and had an awakening. I would like to see more filmic work on the conditions of Nazism's rise. This movie provides some of that but more is needed.

One last note, Matt Smith does an excellent job performing a socially awkward, nerdy Isherwood.

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