Based on the out-of-print autobiography of the same title, Turned Towards the Sun documents the life of Michael (Micky) Burn, a British poet who, amongst other things, fought during the Commando raid at St. Nazaire in 1942. More than sixty years after the event, Micky is taken back to France to retrace his steps, before visiting Colditz Castle in Germany, where he had not been since he was a prisoner of war there in 1945.
Despite its beginnings as documentary of a British war hero, Turned Towards the Sun also dips into Micky’s family life and social life, uncovering the improbable and the nearly impossible in a life that spanned almost a century.
Turned Towards the Sun takes ninety-six-year-old Micky Burn on a journey into his past, setting the scene for extraordinary revelations, as he shares his memories of each location, from meeting Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, to saving the life of Audrey Hepburn with a box of cigarettes, and even travelling to America with the Queen on her first visit to meet President Roosevelt. In retracing the steps of his younger self through France and Germany, Micky accounts for a life so improbable that he thought it best to document every moment in his archive of letters, photographs and other tangible documents, which he later shares on screen.
However, whilst the nostalgic trip offers the most poignant settings, it is the interviews conducted at Micky’s home in South Wales that arguably give the documentary its charm, providing a strong sense of his life as a ninety-six-year-old man. Turned Towards the Sun is unusual in its commitment to depicting a life as a whole, rather than just maximising on Micky’s greatest hits. His story of the improbable is peppered with the ordinary, from his relationship with his wife, Mary, to his bisexuality, and to his comic awareness of the trials of old age. It is the lack of showmanship, which is carried through the documentary’s modest approach of filming that becomes the primary source of endearment.
Turned Towards the Sun is not the most elegantly filmed documentary, and its lack of an authoritative narrative voice sometimes gives way to vacant scenes that might bore a disinterested audience. However, by making use of Micky’s own colourful narration of events, the documentary provides an honest and unscripted insight into the past and the present life of Micky Burn, as told in his own words.
Reflecting on the proposal to make a documentary in the year prior to his trip, Micky insists that the story of his life must be told with a touch of comedy, despite its seriousness, and that request is undoubtedly achieved. His exceptional life, from past to present, is treated with such lightness that it avoids unnecessary glorification. Footage of Micky’s capture at St. Nazaire is pitted against his current befuddlement at modern computers and his hysterical attempts to open a coffee jar, offering some much-needed humour and humanity to the typical documentation of heroes of war.
More than just another account of the Second World War, Turned Towards the Sun is funny and a little bit sweary, but informative and inspiring nonetheless.
Director: Greg Olliver
Starring: Micky Burn (as himself)
Running Time: 103 minutes
Release Date: 4th May 2015