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Invasion (1980)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Invasion (1980)
Granada Television/Nederlandse Omroep Stichting for ITV, tx. 19/8/1980
111 minutes, colour
DirectorLeslie Woodhead
ProducersLeslie Woodhead
 Eva Kolouchova
 David Boulton
ScriptDavid Boulton

Cast: Paul Chapman (Mlynar); Julian Glover (Dubcek); Paul Hardwick (Brezhnev); John Woodnutt (Kosygin); Ray McAnally (Smrkovsky); Ewan Hooper (Cernik)

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The events surrounding the Soviet Union's invasion of fellow Communist nation Czechoslovakia.

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In the 'Prague Spring' of 1968, Alexander Dubcek, First Secretary of the Czech Communist Party, attempted a series of democratising reforms designed to reconnect Communism with the public after 20 years of repression. Although Dubcek was loyal to the Soviet Union, these reforms worried the regime of Soviet leader Brezhnev, which invaded Czechoslovakia in August. Invasion dramatises subsequent events from inside the Czech Presidium, drawing on the eyewitness testimony of senior Party official Zdenek Mlynar and two years of journalistic research.

Invasion begins by asserting that research, stressing its scrutiny of Mlynar's testimony and the essential truthfulness of its dramatised scenes. Dramatisation was a logical response to inevitable problems in securing access to eyewitnesses. Events are largely dramatised from Mlynar's point of view, complete with interior monologue. The interplay between drama and documentary, which includes characters looking at events outside which are depicted through real-life footage, is signposted in the introduction, in which the real Mlynar meets the actor who plays him.

Dramatisation from Mlynar's restricted viewpoint heightens the tension and humour of early scenes in which the Presidium is held under enforced military 'protection'. Though stopping short of assassination or disappearance, the Kremlin summons key protagonists for negotiations once the Soviet Union fails to impose a more obedient regime upon a public supportive of Dubcek. A sense of unease builds as these one-sided negotiations push for the end of Czech independence, in an atmosphere of moral dilemma and potential betrayal, underpinned by memories of the bloodshed which followed the Soviet Union's earlier occupation of Communist Hungary. After a powerful drama marked by acclaimed performances, Invasion uses documentary voice-over to describe the subsequent fate of its protagonists.

Writer David Boulton insisted that this dramatised documentary was journalism, not fiction, but BAFTA labelled Invasion a single play, drawing a heated response in the press from Boulton, who insisted that he was not a playwright, and from the actor who played Dubcek, Julian Glover, who worried about the implications that describing this work as fiction might have for television journalism.

Invasion ends with Dubcek receiving an ovation while under effective house arrest, poignantly emphasising the tragedy of a thwarted popular movement. However, Dubcek ultimately returned to high office in 1989 after power was ceded to a coalition government. A year later, Dubcek was shown Invasion, and met Glover, in the World in Action programme 'The Reconstruction of Mr Dubcek' (ITV, tx. 19/2/1990).

Dave Rolinson

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Video Clips
1. Essentially true (4:19)
2. Protective custody (2:45)
3. Compromise (2:29)
4. Signing (3:21)
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