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Evacuees, The (1975)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

On 1 September 1939 at a Jewish school in Manchester the classroom of Mr Goldstone is disrupted when Danny Miller's grandmother arrives in a panic, fearing that he is about to be taken away. The teacher explains that they are only practising an evacuation. He reassures her by saying that there probably won't be a war. After school Danny and his older brother Neville play in the street along with their friends Zuckerman and Murton, an older boy who is obsessed with football.

When war is declared the whole class is evacuated to Blackpool with the exception of Wilhelm, a silent boy who has recently arrived from overseas and is already staying with foster parents. He offers to shake hands with Danny before the class' departure, but the others are embarrassed so he walks away. Grandma comforts Sarah, their mother, after they see the boys off at the train station. Mr Goldstone takes the boys on a long trip around Blackpool, looking for foster parents. Eventually he finds Mr and Mrs Graham, who are prepared to take both the brothers. After making them take a bath, she has them stand at the diner table and offers them pork sausages to eat. The boys try to explain that they are not allowed to eat pork, to no avail. The boys are forced to eat the food, to their obvious discomfort. That night Danny cries in bed and Neville thumps him.

Sarah writes to her boys, telling them that she should be able to afford a monthly visit and that the street seems very quiet with all the children gone. She sends them a food parcel and also includes two woollen balaclavas. Mrs Graham keeps the food and the letter and gives them only the balaclavas. She has them clean the house every morning, always making them late for school. At the beach Neville and Danny run into a group of youngsters, who make fun of their accents and then beat them up. That evening Mrs Graham refuses them supper for getting into a fight. At bedtime Neville shows his brother a glamour photo of a woman in a bathing suit, but he is uninterested. Danny wants to write and tell their mother of their plight, but Neville forbids it, unwilling to add to his parent's worries. As Mrs Graham tidies up, she holds one of the boys' jerseys to her face with pleasure.

Grandma queues for food and tells her neighbour that it is now nine months since the boys left. Sarah goes for her monthly visit and notices how hungrily the boys the food she has brought them. She is clearly uneasy at having to leave them and cries on her way home. Zuckerman and the brothers stage a getaway, using roller skates. Before long Danny breaks his and the three boys return to the foster families. Murton is killed in an air raid while helping the firemen, having lied about his age.

By December 1940 food is becoming scarce and men are even exchanging it while singing in Temple. There is great excitement when news spreads that bananas are on sale. Sarah brings some for the boys on her next visit. While playing a game of 'Silly Story', in which everyone is supposed to write part of a story without knowing what the others have put on the paper, Danny describes how Mrs Graham steals their food and letters, makes them work cleaning the house and clearly hates them. Sarah takes the boys home. While clearing their room, Mrs Graham says that she loved the boys and only wanted to teach them respect.

After coming home, a small fire breaks out when Danny lights the Menorah candles that night and leaves them burning. At school the brothers meet an evacuee from London. Danny mocks his accent and they get into a fight. Neville separates them and they all leave together. On his way out he says goodbye to Wilhelm, who to their surprises utters his first words since joining the class when he responds in kind. The boys try to get a free ride on the back of a truck, but the driver tells them to get off.