The story of Micky Burn, as told in new British documentary Turned Towards the Sun (named after Burn’s sadly out of print autobiography) would make an utterly riduclous fictional character study. The fact that everything in it actually happened makes it, at first hard to believe, then captivating.
Some of the amazing things Micky Burn has done in his life are: meeting Hitler in an Italian restaurant in Germany whilst hanging out with Unity Mitford; travelling to America with the King and Queen whilst writing for The Times; saving the life of a young Audrey Hepburn whilst possibly having an affair with her mother; being part of the Queen’s Commandos that detroyed a German dry-dock in the French port of St. Nazaire; being captured and locked up in Colditz Castle for three years during which time he ran a pirate radio room from the attic; had a homosexual affair with Guy Burgess (British Intelligence Officer, radio producer and Cambridge spy); and very much more besides.
The film opens with Mickey Burn being fitted with a new hearing-aid, a scene in which we are introduced to Burn’s ornery but humourous character, and from then we follow the planning of a trip to St. Nazaire and and then on to Colditz Castle. This planning and the subsequent plane trip there form the framing of our introduction to this most remarkable character. Though in his mid-90s, Mickey is just as lucid, funny and charming as he always was. If a little slower.
The centrepiece of the film, as mentioned earlier, is the trip to St.Nazaire and Colditz Castle, taking in photocalls and televised interviews (along with a few of the other surviving commandos, who don’t seem half as old as Mickey) during which we see just what tremendous recall Mickey has of his life, and what a crucial critical distance he has from it, especially the moment he met HItler and told him, embarrassingly in retrospect, just how much the British youth thought of him. It is also very touching, watching Burn walk through the halls and up the stairs of Colditz, reliving the three years he spent there as a guest of the Third Reich. There is the obvious tension between his public profile and his private politics (seeing as how he attended the Nuremburg Rally and spent a lot of time with the Mitford sisters (whose own politics were all over the place)) but this didn’t seem to get the attention that I though it deserved, though possibly for good reasons.
All of this is interspersed with Burn talking about his wife, about the women (and men) he loved and the people he knew (and he knew a lot of them) and many shots of the welsh countryside.
In fact, the only problem I had with this film is its haphazard assembly. Outside of the two central moments, there doesn’t seem to be too much structure to the film, jumping back and forth through Burn’s admittedly incredible life.
In the end, despite how much I enjoyed this film, and despite what an amazing character Burn is, I feel that this film may struggle to find an audience outside of those with an interest in British history and its more eccentric characters.
Director: Greg Olliver
Stars: Mickey Burn