Monday, 18 June 2012

Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) - Review

I hate films that are too long, it's the greatest sin a movie can commit. And nowadays movies, generally, are far too lengthy for their own good. I saw a Cameron Diaz movie the other month that went on for 2 hours, inexplicable. You can imagine my dismay, then, when I discovered that a film I had been anxious to watch for quite some time, Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, stretched to 2 hours 36 minutes. I needn't have worried because within half an hour I was lost in the story.

The movie tracks British soldier Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) across a lifetime of service between 1902-1943. We see him take part in three major conflicts; The Boer War, The First World War and The Second World War. Each period is immaculately recreated, especially considering the date of the film's production.  The 1902 german bar, for instance, is sumptuous. Through his service Candy meets many people that make an impact on him, none more so than the German soldier he is forced to duel in 1902, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). And though propaganda may be the movie's body, its heart and soul is the strength of the cross-country friendship between these two men. So much so that Winston Churchill despised it and wanted it banned. This is all helped along by the performances, which are first rate. Livesey anchors everything, and manages to portray Candy's swaggering youth, in 1902, and his reluctant recognition the ageing process in 1943. Of course, this was a British funded second world war movie and so a strong pro-anglo stance on the conflict is taken; really hammering home the fact that this war, due to the uniquely evil threat Nazism poses, is very different from all previous encounters and so requires a suspension of English gentility. However, when compared with, say, the Archer's A Canterbury Tale, Colonel Blimp's propaganda element never gets in the way of the narrative. 

On the film's wikipedia page, the great Stephen Fry says that what interests him about the movie is its addressing of the question "What does it mean to be British?". I would like to hijack this comment, for Mr.QI has hit the nail on the head, what makes this film special is that it captures a sense of what being a member of the British nation means. And it celebrates it. I wrote a review of the footballing documentary One Night in Turin last week and concluded that it would be a perfect injection of patriotism ready for Euro 2012. True though that statement was, Colonel Blimp is a more thoughtful, reasoned reflection on British character and so, consequently, it shows itself to be a more patriotic watch.

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