This epic tragedy entitled “Little England” is the film adaptation of a best-selling novel called “The Jasmine Isle” written by Ioanna Karystiani and published in 2006. The film has a cast of Greek actors, none of whom is likely to be familiar to American audiences. Their performances, however, are impeccable. The action takes place in the early 1930’s. The film has English sub-titles since the actors speak Greek throughout.
Andros Island, Greece - Wikimedia
The beautiful Greek island of Andros is known as Little England. The men who are raised on the island generally become seafaring men who need to be away from home for many months at a time. Their wives, children, and mothers must make do with their lonely lives which they accept as their lot.
The Main Protagonists
The main characters are two sisters, Orsa and Moscha, whose mother Mina was left to take care of her daughters when her husband Savvas went off to sea and settled for many years in Argentina with another woman. Mina therefore was determined that her daughters would not marry seamen, but men with much higher prospects. Her advice to her daughters was “If you don’t love your husband, you won’t be disappointed when he inevitably starts looking elsewhere.”
Mina’s oldest daughter Orsa is 17 years old at the start of the film. She has fallen deeply in love with Spyros, who has ambitions to go off to sea, but is not from a wealthy family. Spyros’ uncle approached Mina to ask for her daughter’s hand in marriage to his nephew, but Mina turned down the offer. Orsa and Spyros continued to meet secretly until Spyros began his seafaring career. Orsa gave Spyros her hair decoration as a remembrance, and he gave her a spoon they found on the seashore, rusted by the elements. Spyros promised to return to her when he became a Captain and they would marry. Orsa promised that she would wait for him.
Wedding Rings - Wikimedia
Mina Arranges a Marriage for Orsa
Mina was far more interested in having Orsa marry a young man named Nikos who was also a seaman but whose prospects were much better and his family was wealthy. Mina arranged the marriage and Orsa was obliged to follow her mother’s dictates. She was most unhappy at the prospect. Spyros heard about Orsa’s marriage while he was away at sea and was shocked at Orsa’s unfaithfulness.
Orsa Becomes Ill
After a time, Orsa had a son which she called Savvas after her father. Nikos was happy with Orsa and his son, but worried when Orsa suffered from anemia and post-partum depression after the birth of Savvas. He arranged for her to received treatment for some months in Athens, during which time the baby Savvas was being cared for by her sister Moscha and her mother Mina.
Moscha Becomes Engaged
Mina was occupied with making certain that Moscha made a good marriage. An English schoolteacher, David Bradley, was interested in Moscha, but Mina turned him away since his prospects for wealth were exceedingly poor. When Orsa recovered and returned to Andros, she was startled that Spyros had come on his own to Mia to arrange a marriage for him to Moscha. Spyros had become a Captain while he was away at sea. Mina was aware that Orsa had feelings for Spyros when she was a young girl, but Moscha was unaware of the situation. She was so happy to look forward to her marriage with Spyros. She showed her ring to Orsa, the ring that Spyros had originally bought for Orsa, which he had planned to give her when they were engaged. Moscha confided to Orsa that Spyros’ attentions made her forget her Englishman.
Wedding Cake - Wikimedia
Mina Gives the Couples a Duplex Home
As part of the girls’ dowry, Mina had arranged for the two girls and their husbands to occupy a home that she had deeded to them. Orsa and Nikos occupied the first floor and Moscha and Spyros lived just above them, on the second floor. The two husbands went off to sea for long periods and came home happily to their wives frequently. Orsa could hear Moscha and Spyros through the ceiling when they made love, which was highly disturbing to Orsa, who still had feelings for Spyros. Spyros had wanted to have a home of their own, perhaps in Athens, but Moscha wanted to be near her family.
Mina’s Husband Savvas Returns Home
It was 1937 and the talk of war was in the air. Mina’s husband, Savvas, decided it was time for him to leave his love Angelita in Argentina, and go back to the island of Andros. He gave Angelita the deed to the house which they had occupied for so many years. Everyone was happy to see him back in Andros, but Mina could not restrain from giving him a piece of her mind about how she had taken all of the responsibility of the home and children while he was away.
Over the years, Orso and Nikos and three children - two girls and a boy. Moscha had no children, and Spyros sometimes looked longingly at Orso’s children.
War is Declared
Britain and France declared war on Germany at this time. Spyros by this time had his own ship which he called “Little England,” and it was put into service for the war effort. When Nikos said goodbye to Orso, he said to her “It’s as though I don’t exist for you.” She always appeared to be occupied otherwise. Orso wished him a safe return. The women in the neighborhood gathered together often because all of their men had gone to sea. They tried to cheer one another.
Spyros’ Ship is Lost
Word came that 31 ships from Andros were lost, including “Little England.” Spyros’ whereabouts was unknown until an official came to their door to relate that he had been killed, sacrificing his life for his men. Everyone was surprised that Orso cried out helplessly at the news and could not be comforted. Her family was concerned that she wore only black, she never would eat, and she never left the house.
Naval Warship - Wikimedia
Mochsa Learns the Truth
Mochsa learned for the first time that Spyros had asked for Orso’s hand in marriage and had been turned down. She found 17 letters to Orso from Spyros but Orso explained that they had all been written when she was 19 years old before she ever married Nikos. Mochsa accused Orso of carrying on with Spyros all during her marriage. She even wondered if one of Orso’s daughters might have belong to Spyros. Orso insisted “He loved you, Mochsa.”
No Happy Ending
Of course, the ending is sad. Orso never recovered from her grief. Nikos was offered a job in New York City with a shipping company and planned to take his three children with him. Of course, Orso did not want to leave Andros.
There is no happy ending, unfortunately to “Little England.” The acting was so brilliant, the actions of the main characters seemed real. The film is one of the saddest stories that I have ever witnessed. Its one redeeming factor is the feeling of gratitude felt by the viewer that such an experience had not been a part of one’s life
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