Patient audiences may find themselves surrendering to “Resistance,” a Wales-set WWII drama from first-time feature helmer Amit Gupta. Adapted from Owen Shears’ novel of the same name, this counterfactual tale supposes that the Nazis successfully invaded England following the failure of the D-Day landings. With the menfolk of a small Welsh village having already departed, it’s up to the women to negotiate a tricky detente with the occupying force. Thoughtful, action-light pic arrived Nov. 25 in a dozen Blighty arthouses, facing off against higher-profile year-end titles; a major offensive by ticketbuyers is unlikely.
A patrol led by young commanding officer Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha) enters the Welsh Olchon Valley in the fall of 1944. They are coolly received by the female inhabitants, whose husbands have disappeared in the night. Farmer’s wife Sarah (Andrea Riseborough) seems particularly unyielding and initially rebuffs any assistance from the soldiers. But Albrecht recognizes that farm work is good for his men’s morale, and eventually practical necessity forces the women to set aside qualms about collaboration. The patrol beds down for the winter, ditching army uniforms for the absent men’s work clothes.
The reason the Nazis are interested in this strategic backwater is eventually revealed to be an ancient artifact, a map of the world, considered to have symbolic value by Himmler. But when Albrecht discovers it stashed in a cave, he keeps quiet about the find, hoping to keep his troops away from the frontlines for as long as possible. His respectful courtship of the enigmatic Sarah may be the real reason.
Pale-skinned rising star Riseborough (“Brighton Rock,” “W.E.”) once again provides a captivating focus, vividly communicating a sense of hurt, loss and finally something like yearning in a perf as restrained as lenser John Pardue’s highly composed, desaturated photography. She’s matched by a similarly interior turn from East German-born Wlaschiha (TV miniseries “The Deep”) as a soldier caught between duty and conscience. That said, their slow-burn relationship doesn’t proceed in a manner likely to satisfy fans of historical romance.
A subplot involving a young resistance fighter (Iwan Rheon, well known to young British auds for TV’s “Misfits”) feels insufficiently developed. As the lad’s mentor, Michael Sheen (“The Queen”) gets just enough screentime to provide an additional marketable element.
Despite a relatively modest budget, Gupta achieves a real sense of the passing seasons as icy winter turns to sunny spring, echoing the human drama. Thanks to highly discreet use of music, an evocatively whistling, occasionally howling wind is the dominant audio ingredient. Design elements, including Nigel Egerton’s earth-tone costumes, are of a piece with the period rural setting and the sustained mood of restraint.