Army of the Shadows (1969) L’armée des Ombres

As a UK script consultant, UK Script editor  and script writer for hire, it is with very mixed feelings that as I write this blogpost today is Brexit day. From tomorrow the UK will slowly start the long (or short – who knows?) process of leaving the European Union.  With this historic day in mind, today I’m going to write about a French film from 1969, Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic Army of the Shadows

L’armée des Ombres to give it’s French title is a classic of not just European Cinema, but of historical and political cinema.

The film is set in 1942 in France and follows the exploits of the French resistance and its long running battle with the German Gestapo.  Don’t be fooled by (often British) jokes about the French resistance, this was life and death stuff, and the film shows what life was like in the active resistance.  And life was often short, we see resistance members kill and be killed, and we see it in a mundane matter of fact way – when death was a way of life for people who before the war, barely came near such danger or threat. The resistance weren’t soldiers, they were in most cases regular people.

We see the resistance is organised like an army, or, more clearly, a criminal enterprise. Director Melville’s stock in trade was the crime film, this underground army are like a well drilled crime family, a mafia, or a gangster group. They kill in everyday environments, and they organise themselves outside of the law, underground and in secret, using codes and secret agendas.

The film has breathtaking moments of heroism and it’s bloody when it needs to be.  What comes across more than anything is the loyalty to the group, to people working together to fight an enemy. The fight was just, and many resistance members paid the ultimate price. But the group stayed strong, and loyalty to the resistance was all that mattered.   They worked together.

Jean-Pierre Melville has always held a certain fascination to me, a French director, working mainly in Paris, who made gangster films, an American genre that he fashioned into a European style. He worked on low budgets, had his own studio, his own stock of actors, he had a lot of control. When the New Wave came along, he was listed as an inspiration. He was an individualist, outside the system and working on his own, but in this film, he made one of the best pictures about a group, and being loyal to a group ethic, above all else.

L’armée des ombres is a masterpiece and is too little known outside of France.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor  and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on or hire him on Peopleperhour

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020.