Blu-Ray Review: ‘Pastor Hall’

by Rachel Bellwoar

Pastor Hall is about a German priest (Wilfrid Lawson) who stands up to the Nazi Stormtroopers that have taken control of his small town. Directed by Roy Boulting, the screenplay was co-written by Leslie Arliss, Haworth Bromley, and Anna Reiner (mother of children’s author, Eva Ibbotson).

In order to make up for the fact that most of the cast is British, all of the characters have very German names. That can’t mask the fact, though, that this film has a very British sensibility in terms of the pastor’s dry wit and “taking the piss” approach to dealing with the main Nazi, Fritz (Marius Goring) (it’s Fritz’s affection for Pastor Hall’s daughter (Nova Pilbeam) that saves him from being punished sooner).

The choice to include text at the beginning of Pastor Hall gives away the fact that the film will ultimately denounce fascism, but if the text weren’t there it would be much less clear which way the film was going to go. Pastor Hall tries to keep an open mind about the Nazis (after all, he must be missing something if so many people are siding with them), but of course, he’s not missing anything. It just makes the situation slightly more believable, that he doesn’t start out already dead set against them.

While Pastor Hall was somewhat based on real life pastor, Martin Neimöller, Neimöller was a much more complex figure (a fact that’s confirmed by author, Matthew D. Hockenos, in a bonus featurette) and the ending of the film really strays from the true story.

Pastor Hall would make an interesting counterpart to the American war film, The Mortal Storm (or even Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt). Like Mortal Storm, too, Pastor Hall was released in 1940 (when WWII was still taking place), which makes its depiction of concentration camps all the more startling, in terms of what people did and didn’t know yet. In a bonus featurette, ex-BBFC examiner, Richard Falcon, goes over the censorship issues the film faced. Indicator’s Blu-Ray also includes two short films and a booklet with an essay by film curator, Fiona Kelly.

Pastor Hall is available on Region-Free Blu-Ray starting June 27th from Indicator.

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