What made Olliver’s previous documentary about Motörhead frontman Lemmy so enthralling was his ability to capture the apparent loneliness of a man who is adored by millions of fans the world over. Olliver entered his world and managed to uncover a mask of vulnerability despite his subject’s bravado. Burn proves to be the opposite, an engrossing storyteller whom it must have been a pleasure to talk to and film. Even in his elder years he possesses a wickedly sharp wit and isn’t afraid to shy away from the more candid parts of his private life.
Burn was no stranger to danger, even before war commenced he walked a tightrope with authority and danger. He was an openly bisexual man in a time when any form of homosexuality was not tolerated and his lovers included the Soviet spy Guy Burgess. He had also flirted with National Socialism in Germany, admiring Hitler (even meeting him) and experiencing Nazi Germany first hand, something he dismisses nonchalantly as youthful ignorance.
When war did come calling, Burn immediately signed up, joining the army for the action. He volunteered for a unit which would eventually become the Commandos, the crack corps that are still revered today. Burn was present for one of the most audacious actions of the Second World War during the St Nazaire raid. Wounded and having lost many friends in the fighting, his valour and leadership would later earn him a Military Cross. Burn is at his riveting best recounting the operation in measured detail. Burn was subsequently captured as were the large majority of commandos who survived and after brief stints in POW camps was eventually sent to the imposing and legendary Colditz castle.
Burn’s literary skills came to prominence during his time in prison, indeed he finished his first novel and acted as a scribe to the prison’s secret radio operator. During this time, it is alleged that he helped save a malnourished and sickly Audrey Hepburn. Sending the future Hollywood starlet’s mother (an old friend) parcels of food and cigarettes, which her mother would sell on the black market for a large profit. This is a tenuous claim however and considering the daring exploits of Burn’s life it didn’t quite live up to the hype.
When the war ended Burn worked for the Times and was present for the Hungarian uprising and became a correspondent on events behind the Iron Curtain, somewhat ironic given his links to Burgess, which must have felt like a lifetime ago. He married Mary Booker and became neighbours and a great friend to the philosopher Bertrand Russell and his wife Edith. His love for words and poetry never wavered, and post-war he had several books published. Another example of Burn’s restless spirit and energy.
Sadly, Burn died at home in 2010 and didn’t get to see his film premiere at the BFI London Film Festival two years later. Olliver was nominated for a BFI Grierson award for best documentary maker and it’s easy to see why. Burn spoiled Olliver with material and was ever willing to delve into his memory and offer insights with dignified warmth and charm. Micky Burn lived an extraordinary life and one certainly worth telling.
Review by Tom Pears
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Turned Towards the Sun is out now on DVD.