Played at the March 2017 DOCUMENTARY Festival
THE GENTLEMAN NEXT DOOR, 16min, USA
Directed by John Mollison
Sometimes the old man next door turns out to also be a young man of a different, violent age.
Review by Kierston Drier:
“When a man dies a library is burned”. That may very well be the theme of John Mollison’s documentary The Gentleman Next Door, a heart wrenching and touching look at one man’s journey through World War Two. To many he is simply the sweet, always giggling elderly neighbour, slight of build and frequently smiling.
But behind his gentle British accent and kind eyes is a tale of service in the name of his country during one of the most horrific wars of the 20th century. John Wilkinson was just a boy when he entered the war to be a pilot, and was exceptionally good at his job. He kept meticulous records, and took great care his equipment, items that are now considered priceless antiques.
John Wilkinson is impossible to not love. You hear him speak and you feel as if you have always known him. His disposition is bright, cheerful, and he talks almost fondly of his time in the service. A keen eye though, will see him change topics when asked to discuss the darker bits of his work. The keen eye will see his smile flicker, and a shadow dim his eyes when he talks of watching concentration camp liberations at the end of the war.
John Wilkinson, no doubt, was part of a generation taught that war was noble, honest, just and filled with glory. That generation lived those words, and many paid a dear price to uphold them. Today, many of us see war in a less than glorified light. But the shifting public opinion does not change the sacrifices made by so many. Untold numbers lost their lives, and some, like John, lost their youth and innocence.
What makes John’s story beautiful, touching, and unforgettable is his bright and sunny disposition. It is hard to believe a person so gentle has seen and been part of so many horrors and when asked, he brushes those horrors aside. John Wilkinson’s story, is a story of courage and bravery. It is never more noticed, than how effectively he can mask those tragedies behind a genuine smile. No one will tell you war is a good thing, but good people fight in them. John Wilkinson is one.
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