Shoshana  (15) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Michael Winterbottom, UK/Italy, 2023, 121 mins, in English/Hebrew/Arabic/ Russian with subtitles where appropriate

Cast:  Douglas Booth, Irina Starshenbaum, Harry Melling

Review by Carol Allen

Michael Winterbottom’s film about the British mandate to administer Palestine in the 1930s and the Jewish battle to create the state of Israel now has to bear the burden of the question, what light does it turn on the tragic cotemporary situation in that area today?

Though the story is a fictionalisation, Shoshana (Irina Starshenbaum) was a real life campaigner, journalist and fighter for the establishment of the Jewish state as a member of an organisation called the Haganah. 

The film is set in Tel Aviv, then a totally new city, at a time when Jews escaping from pogroms in Russia and the rise of Fascism in Europe are pouring into the country. 

While the effect of this on the Arab population is touched upon dramatically near the beginning of the film, its main focus is the love affair between Shoshana, young British police officer Thomas Wilkin (Douglas Booth) and how that relationship reflects the political conflict.   

Wilkin’s job is to support his superiors, brutal Superintendent Geoffrey Morton (Harry Melling), who arrives on the scene with a history of suppressing Arab violence and is now prepared to do the same again with the Jews and the more diplomatic figure of Ian Hart as the British High Commissioner’s right hand man. 

The second theme is the conflict between the two organisations fighting for the establishment of the Jewish state – Haganah, with whom Shoshana is working and the more violent Irgun, led by Avraham Stern (Aury Alby).  Much of the latter half of the film deals with the British authorities search for Stern, as a result of what they regard as his terrorist activity – activity which the film shows in graphic and violent detail. 

It would have been interesting to see more of the relationship between the Jewish settlers struggling for the right to create their own state and the Arabs, who were already there.   But on its own terms the film does throw some light on the birth pangs of the country that is now Israel and why it is the way it is, while the love story between its two principals and Wilkin’s dilemma, torn between loyalties, are both engaging and well acted.