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average rating is 3 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Oct 22, 2023

Film Reviews
Directed by:
Jessica Fox
Written by:
Jessica Fox
Oli Fyne, Louis Hall, Gary Lewis

Pre-war tensions, scenic Scottish vistas and costume romance – it’s like Stella was made for Sunday afternoon viewing. Jessica Fox’s drama feature about a German-Jewish refugee is a serviceable and safe drama, even if it is a little too no-frill.


In 1937, Stella (Oli Fyne), a Jewish refugee from Germany, seeks work in a Scottish county estate as she seeks word of family she was forced to leave behind. Unbeknownst to Stella, the estate is owned by the fascist Earl of Rig (Gary Lewis). Her English roots allow her to hide her true identity, and she sparks a growing relationship with local boy Will (Louis Hall). But as the Earl’s nazi sympathies become more pronounced, and as Stella is drawn into his plans to host Oswald Mosley (Rufus Wright) at the manor, she faces growing dangers and an urge to resist her new household.


Stella is a step back in time to a sinister period of British history when sympathies with the now-reviled Nazi regime and fascist tide were shamefully prominent amongst some of the upper-class. Framed around a rather typical period-drama love story, it is at its most interesting when exploring why the aristocracy of the time felt a kinship with the Nazis – and how this impacted on the society they sought to shape. Many other contemporary dramas such as The Crown and Peaky Blinders (which also features Mosley as an antagonist) have explored similar territory, and Stella doesn’t really break new ground in terms of insights or commentary on what such attitudes say about Britain (either then or now). But it is entertaining and engaging to see Stella navigate the danger she finds herself surrounded by. The kindness offered by Lady Rig (Susan Vidler) despite the horrifying views of her husband, or the disturbing indoctrination of the village’s children that Stella feels a party to, are particularly memorable and affecting scenes.


The film’s plot feels like more of a vehicle to explore the setting, than an engaging or necessary story in of itself. Stella’s story is set up to be one of an unavoidable and approaching conflict. Trapped in a job and home that could spell danger if her identity were to be uncovered, her desire to find her family feels like an inevitable crisis that follows the character throughout the film. Yet much of the threads that are raised surrounding this never come to fruition within the movie. The presence of an agent for the government in the house, and the seeming threat Mosley poses, are similarly left frustratingly unresolved.


This may be to add intrigue to the film’s exploration of the fascist cause in Britain, or to add drama to the central relationship between Stella and Will. Oli Fyne and Louis Hall have a good level of chemistry together and make for a believable enough pairing. The relationship drama itself is filled with cliches – from naked swimming, a chase through the woods, a revelation about one of the pair’s identities that changes their perspective of each other – classic tropes that fans of this particular flavour of drama will be well acquainted with. Whether these present as a tired and derivative formula or a familiar and comforting blanket of blossoming romance really is down to the individual.


Stella therefore really is tailor-made for cosy afternoon viewing – impressively accomplishing the job of transporting its audience back to a different time without overdoing the intensity of the period. Outside of some interesting framing of British fascism, it is largely forgettable – but undoubtably has an audience who will embrace its presentation of the pre-war era.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Theatrical Release, Digital / DVD Release, Indie Feature Film
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