Sky Movies Drama: Thursday 1 October, 3.30pm
When Japanese troops march into Shanghai’s international settlement on the eve of Pearl Harbor, an 11-year-old English schoolboy is separated from his parents and scuffs for survival in an internment camp. The wartime childhood of author J.G. Ballard is turned into an epic odyssey of unsentimental education by Steven Spielberg who, in a succession of vivid scenes, strikingly conveys the confusion and terror of the time.
Yet for the boy – 13-year-old Christian Bale in a touchingly grave debut – it’s an adventure. “It’s at the beginning and end of war we have to watch out for oursleves,” explains American internee John Malkovich. “In between, it’s like a country club.” The boy’s bearing and vocabulary makes an impression on the amused Malkovich, a merchant seaman attempting to become the camp’s King Rat: “You’ve got nice manners, Jim. I appreciate that.” In his claret schoolcap and blazer, Bale’s Jim is a forlorn figure when Shanghai’s complacent ‘Business as usual’ colony is crushed by the Japanese invaders.
In the camp, he’s a quick learner. Ballard later said it took him 20 years to forget what he saw in the camp, then 20 years to remember it for his autobiographical novel. Like John Boorman’s Hope and Glory, it’s a stirring testament to the resilience and adaptability of children. In 2011, Bale would return to China to star in The Flowers of War, a distressing drama of Japan’s 1937 onslaught on Nanking.