About a month ago Emma Norton watched a new documentary by director Greg Olliver entitled Turned Towards the Sun. As we heard gossip about possible UK distribution we thought you might be interested in reading a little more about this endearing feature doc.
This biographical documentary explores the extraordinary life of Micky Burns, an English poet with a thousand fascinating stories to tell. Turned Towards the Sun follows the 97-year-old war veteran as he re-examines his past, travelling between Wales, France and Germany to reflect on the multitude of achievements he has made over the years.
People like him just don’t really exist anymore these days. Born two years before the start of the First World War he is part of a generation of men and women, many of whom are sadly no longer with us, who lived through some of the most challenging periods in modern British history, and did it with a stiff upper lip.
Yet from the outset of the film it is clear that Micky is also a truly exceptional individual, full of charisma and charm, wonderfully prim and proper, yet far from antiquated. His life story is so full of joy, excitement and extraordinary events that it is almost hard to take it as the truth, but it is.
Micky is particularly unique coming from an upper-class family with strong links to British Royal family. It was this privileged social status that enabled him to receive a first-class public school education, going on to study at Oxford. Here he met some remarkable characters. One of them would go on to become the notorious double agent Guy Burgess, and rumour has it that Micky even had a brief affair with him.
Micky’s connections with the aristocratic British families also led him to a chance meeting with Adolf Hitler through his friend Unity Mitford in 1936. He attended the Nuremberg Rally, which he describes now as “a terrifying experience”. Indeed, he reflects on meeting Hitler as a great embarrassment and feels nothing but regret, however, at the time he was determined to speak to him.
The film didn’t come about out of a chance meeting but is the result of a request made by Micky’s friends and family, who asked filmmaker Greg Olliver to feature him as the subject of an biographical film. It is clear the filmmaker fell in love with this remarkable man but subsequently, the documentary is very much a celebration of Micky’s life, choosing not to dwell too deeply the more unsatisfactory moments in his life.
There is little critique of the choices Micky made over his lifetime, or any great analysis of the struggles he faced as a bisexual man growing up in a sexually restricted Britain. This leaves the audience with a fairly one dimensional view of the ageing poet; one which, though very interesting to watch, does not make this film anything more than an interesting contemplation of a man who is certainly more complex than is otherwise stated.
Moreover, it would have been nice to see more of the extensive archive material collected from Micky’s life, which did not feature as more than a side note.
Overall, though, Turned Towards the Sun is a very compelling portrait, one cannot refute that Micky Burns was a captivating individual whose long life has propelled him into a diverse array of circumstances, covering many of the major historical events of the 20th century.