If the version of the script read by Big Hollywood columnist Joel B. Pollak is any indication, Best Actor Oscar winner Colin Firth’s next movie may be one in which dramatic license gives way to historical revisionism. Firth will be playing the role of British Assistant District Commissioner Robert Chambers in The Promised Land, directed by Michael Winterbottom. The current script, a romance between Thomas Wilkin, a British police officer responsible for tracking down members of underground Zionist groups in British Mandate of Palestine, and Shoshana Borochov, daughter of Dov Ber Borochov, a left-wing Zionist, presents the story, according to Pollack, as “one in which the British favor the Jews over the Arabs, the Jews repay British kindness with cruelty, and Arab violence against civilians and support for the Third Reich are airbrushed out of the picture.”
Likely such revisionism is intentional. The screenplay was co-written by Winterbottom and Laurence Coriat, a woman who added her signature to a petition from “Lebanon and Israel’s filmmaking community” which is itself a piece of historical revisionism. Apparently ignoring the reality that the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon began when Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel as cover for an anti-tank attack on Israeli soldiers–in which three soldiers were killed and two kidnapped–Ms. Coriat, et al, expressed “a message of camaraderie and solidarity with our Lebanese and Palestinian colleagues who are currently besieged and bombarded by our country’s [Israel] army.” Furthermore, Ms. Coriat and the other signers promised “to express through our films, with our raised voices, and in our personal actions our vehement opposition to the occupation, and we will continue to express our desire for freedom, justice, and equality among all the peoples of the region.”
In the film, officer Wilkin’s principle adversary is Avraham “Yair” Stern, leader of the LECHI, or “Fighters For the Freedom of Israel,” whom the British derisively referred to as Stern Gang. They were one of three underground groups opposed to British rule, but the Stern Gang carried out a violent campaign against British government officials and police. The Stern Gang was labeled a terrorist organization by the British and an outlaw organization by leaders of the other Zionist movements.
Stern’s primary consideration was to rid colonial Palestine of British rule because they were opposed to massive immigration of Jews who were fleeing Hitler and the Nazis. This opposition was codified in a declaration called the White Paper of 1939. The Paper restricted Jewish immigration to a total of 75,000 over a five year period between 1940 and 1944, despite the ongoing Nazi atrocities in Europe. Stern saw such limitations as a de facto death sentence for his people.
The Paper, issued by the government of Neville Chamberlain, superseded the Peel Commission Report of 1937, which had recommended a partition of the Mandate. That agreement had sought to address the causes of Arab-Jewish riots which broke out in 1936 and lasted three years. Speaking on behalf of the Arabs, and demanding a complete halt to Jewish immigration, was the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. The White Paper of 1939 was apparently an effort to appease al-Husseini and his followers, despite his own role in opposing British rule and leading violent riots against Jews in the 1920s.
When Pollack refers to the film as “airbrushing” the Arab-Nazi relationship, it may be because Amin al-Husseini went on to align himself with Hitler during the war, actively recruiting Muslims for Hitler’s SS. He did so based on a promise that he would be installed as the leader of Palestine, after the British were defeated–and the 350,000 Jews living there were exterminated. Pollack also points out that the draft of the script he read slants the violence in the movie, with graphic depictions of violence against Arabs committed by both the British and Jewish terrorists vividly displayed, while “Jewish victims are largely off-screen, mentioned in the abstract–if at all,” even as Arabs are depicted “as unique victims; they are the only concentration camp inmates portrayed in the story, for example.”
Some of Mr. Pollack’s accusations may haven been inadvertently confirmed by two statements. One is the synopsis of the picture released by its maker, Fortissimo Films. It calls the movie ”a police-thriller set in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem during the British Mandate era in Palestine. It tells the gripping true story of two British police officers…and their battle to bring to an end the campaign of bombings and assassinations by the extreme right-wing Jewish underground led by the charismatic poet, Avraham Stern.” Yet a spokesman for the company, Michael Werner refers to director Michael Winterbottom as a man “who has proved time and again his skill at tackling troubling and controversial human stories.”
Thus, the obvious question arises: is The Promised Land a “true story,” or a “controversial” one? Perhaps much of the debate centers around Winterbottom’s own depiction of the story which, in an interview with ComingSoon.net he described as “British police chasing Jewish terrorist groups,” or the fact that the movie isn’t based on any specific historical reference, with Winterbottom admitting “we just did our own research.” Pollack calls such research selective at best, claiming the screenplay is “deeply flawed’ with “errors of omission as well as commission, such as the familiar (yet false) claim that Jews were a minority in Jerusalem in the early 20th century.”
Israeli actress Mili Avital agrees with Pollack’s assessment. She had been sent a script to see if she wanted to participate in the project but rejected the offer. ”It is a script that has drawn much attention, Colin Firth will play in it, but it was so anti-Zionist that I closed it after 20 pages. I read it and there were tears in my eyes. This director appreciates me a lot and I dreamed to work with him, but it pains me to read how he describes the beginning of Zionism from such an extreme point of view.”
Perhaps columnist Moshe Philips put it best. In a column for News Real Blog, which is a publication of the David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, he likens the film to Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005), in which, once again, “Israelis will be depicted in such a way as to produce a strong sense of moral equivalence. There are no real good guys. Everyone has done wrong. All religions have their violent extremists.”
That viewpoint was echoed by Yisreal Medad who works at Menachem Begin Heritage Center where Winterbottom reportedly went to do some of his aforementioned research. “I had the opportunity to introduce him to the vast literature on the underground struggle against the British and the political interpretative dispute,” said Medad. “I also pointed out the period’s complexity but the simple stories of heroism. He seemed quite uneasy and indicated that the real period he was after was the late 1930s. That, to me, indicated an attempt to pillory the Jews as ‘terrorists’ no better, and probably worse, than the Arabs.”
Mr. Winterbottom is no stranger to moral equivalency. His film Road to Guantanamo is the story of three British Muslims who spent more than two years in that prison camp after being picked up in Afghanistan where they ostensibly went on a “side trip” from their original destination of Karachi. After being mistaken for members of the Taliban, they are rounded up, sent to an Afghan prison, and eventually end up in Guantanamo, where they are ostensibly subjected to “inhumane treatment” by American soldiers. A true story? The Wall Street Journal describes the film as a “mélange of journalism and dramatic license [which] can be enthralling and maddening at the same time, because the ring of truth, which the film has, is not the same as the truth, which remains unknown.”
In the same article the Journal puts its finger on a sad reality that describes, not just these two films, but far too many made in Hollywood and elsewhere: ”a brilliant work of fiction that may well be taken as objective truth.” No doubt people like Michael Winterbottom, as well as Oliver Stone, (JFK, Nixon) Brian De Palma (Redacted) and other “historical” film-makers prefer being thought of as engaging in dramatic license rather than historical revisionism. Yet it would be hard to believe that these men aren’t pleased that their particular slant on “history” would be taken for objective truth. Perhaps there is a more accurate term to describe such men.
Unabashed propagandists seems far more accurate.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.