'No people in the world other than the English would have had the courage, in the midst of war, to tell the people such unvarnished truth…' Anton Walbrook to Winston Churchill (allegedly…)
Of all the war films made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger perhaps none challenged the notion of propaganda quite so much as Colonel Blimp. They didn’t want simple preaching but to engage their viewers in their own rational support for war. There are no simple atrocities, no easy clichés and there are even Germans to admire: following on from Eric Portman’s character in 49th Parallel – a brave soldier doing what he must for his country.
|Roger Livesey and Anton Walbrook|
In Colonel Blimp extra spice is added by the Archers’ ostensible attack on the traditionalist “Blimps” running the forces who were more wedded to misguided concepts of honour than the need to fight like-with-like against a new generation of enemies who are entirely unrestrained by principle and the Rules of War.
|Blimp in the bath|
Colonel Blimp starts off showing us the old and the complacent: stubbornly sticking to the way things should be done… but then it shows us how this man came to be. Turns out he was far more daring, far more dashing than even the young Captain who decides to humble him by attacking six hours before their manoeuvers are due to start.
|Deborah Kerr 1 and Deborah Kerr 3...|
|Anton Walbrook and Deborah Kerr|
Clive leaves but he never stops loving Edith. As the year’s roll on and into the War to End All Wars… he keeps seeing her face and eventually marries a Yorkshire nurse Barbara Wynne (Deborah Kerr), after the war, who looks very much the same.
|Deborah Kerr 2 and Roger Livesey|
Time shifts forward shown by the growth of Clive’s hunting trophies in his den… a succession of Zebra, Rhino, Elephants and other now endangered species attach themselves all showing the locations of their “bagging” - a clever device: how else to show the extent of Empire?
|Livesey and Laurie|
So, women have gone from agitating for men to help them, getting stuck in as war nurses and finally to active combat (albeit as a driver) – so equal they even have men’s names…
"Johnny’s” boyfriend is the over-eager young man who shows Clive and co that you now need to break the rules of war in order to win and this is a message reinforced by Theo as Clive encounters him again as a refugee trying to escape the Nazis.
Theo is detained by suspicious immigration officers and gives a moving account of just how low his country has fallen under the rule of men he barely considers German. This was highly personal not just for the Austrian Walbrook but also for the Hungarian Pressburger whose grandson, Kevin Macdonald, confirms just how close to home the feelings expressed were.
|Wake up calls...|
Like all Powell and Pressburger films, Colonel Blimp leaves much to ponder but by treating its audience with such respect it leaves them thinking even at a time when the government just wanted them fighting. Yet the majority of those who saw the film would have been on the Home Front and would have needed such rational fare to help sustain them through the closing years of this bitter conflict… a time when the game genuinely did change and Britain did indeed have to find itself anew in the World that remained.
|The admirable Anton|
Then there’s Roger Livesey, initially so unrecognisable as the dashing Laird of Kiloran from I Know Where I’m Going, but who clearly relishes the chance to play a character with less depth and more journey… Were P&P addressing the nature of heroism? Was Candy too insensitive to be a real hero or just blinded by absolute certainty and belief in the greatness of his country?
|Old and middle-aged Candy|
All filmed in amazing Technicolor by the magical Jack Cardiff, Colonel Blimp looks freshly minted in the recently-released Blu-Ray edition. It comes with an old-fangled DVD and a half hour documentary on the film along with comments on the restoration from Archers mega-fan Martin Scorsese.
I haven’t seen the film for a while and it’s never looked better: Powell and Pressburger on Blu-Ray…you know it makes sense!
It’s available from Movie Mail and all Amazons at very reasonable prices…