Jennings's film opens with pages from the 1607 edition of William Camden's Britannia. The accompanying spoken text is adapted from the 1610 English translation of Camden's original Latin:
'For the air is most temperate and wholesome, situated in the midst of the temperate zone. For water, it is walled and guarded with the Ocean, most commodious for traffic to all parts of the world. The earth fertile with all kinds of grain, manured with good husbandry, rich in mineral of coals, tin, lead, copper, not without gold and silver, abundant with pasture, replenished with cattle both tame and wild, plentifully wooded, beautified with many populous cities, fair boroughs, good towns, and well-built villages.'
It is striking that, in a film that foregrounds Britain's resistance to German bombing, the phrase 'provided with all complete provisions of war' was omitted by Jennings from Camden's text. Curious also is the choice of a map on which the North Sea is identified by its Latin name, 'Oceanus Germanicus', suggesting how close the enemy is, and how great the danger.
- Nara Island has been destroyed. Reconnaissance aircraft have sighted the creature in this area here.
- Excuse me sir, but that looks as though the thing is heading for England.
After she has destroyed Nara, a fictitious island off the Irish coast, Gorgo's mother is tracked in her quest to retrieve her captured baby. This first map room is dominated by maps of the British Isles.
When she reaches London, we shift to a different map room with a more localised map:
Here it is confessed by the officer in charge that their mapping of her movements is not particularly effective: 'Piccadilly Circus? There's no way of telling where this thing will turn next...'.
In effect such mapping is as difficult a task for the cine-tourist, since the monster is shown in successive parts of London (Trafalgar Square, London Wall, St Paul's, Piccadilly Circus, Battersea Park) with little respect for the topography of the city. This does of course communicate the general confusion of the terrified population as the city is indiscriminately destroyed:
Very little other than the film's title situates Chan in London. (It is of course a Hollywood-made film.) Most of the action takes place in a country house in a fictional county ('Retfordshire'), and the few London scenes are all interiors, save for the view of the Houses of Parliament that serves as backdrop to the opening and closing credits, and an exterior view of a prison. A title tells us this is 'Pentonville Prison - London', and we also see fictional newspapers that bear the city's name ('The London Planet', 'London Daily Post', 'London Gazette').
Maps feature only once, in an office at a fictional airbase ('Farnwell'). The film is, effectively, 'Charlie Chan in England', with an accumulation of stereotypical signs (hunting, bobbies, class-inflected accents...) to ensure authenticity. A substantial assembly of authentic British actors (at least 16 of them, including Alan Mowbray, Mona Barrie and Ray Milland) also contributed to this impression.
(The casting of Elsa Buchanan as the maid is discussed in a much later English country house film, Altman's Gosford Park.)
‘After a credit sequence showing belle époque photographs three “nationalist” recitations are juxtaposed, before a map presents insistently the gaping wound that is Alsace Lorraine: the lies of propaganda, the desire for revenge, and then there is war.’
Corinne Françoise-Denève, ‘Retour de flamme: Grande Guerre et cinéma français dans le nouveau siècle’, in Carola Hähnel-Mesnard, Marie Liénard-Yeterian, Cristina Marinas (eds), Culture et mémoire: représentations contemporaines de la mémoire dans les espaces mémoriels, les arts du visuel, la littérature et le théâtre (Palaiseau: Les Editions de l’Ecole Polytechnique, 2008) p. 186.
'In the opening sequence of It Happened Here Britain is shown joined seamlessly with continental Europe. The arrows of Nazi progress overrun everywhere. The film's ceaselessly chilling effect starts with an attack on the most familiar way the British defend the borders of their idea of nationhood: as an island.’
Katherine Shonfield, Walls Have Feelings: Architecture, Film and the City (London: Routledge, 2000), p.17.