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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Directed by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell

UK, 1943

Cornerhouse, 19 August 2012

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

There is no denying the brilliance of Pressburger and Powell’s film, evident right from the opening scene: the speeding motorcycles moving to a syncopated jazz rhythm.

We are in a modern, forever-on-the-move world; old customs and outmoded forms of thinking no longer apply.  That’s the implication.  The scene mirrors the main propaganda message of the film, released when Britain was still at war.  That message can be put like this: Britain had fought fair in wars in the past, but cannot now afford that luxury.  Now, against the Nazis, any means – fair or foul – must be used.  The risks otherwise are too great.

Now, one can question the accuracy of the claim that Britain had always fought fair.  In the First World War, the British had (contra Roger Livesey’s character Clive Candy) used gas warfare; and in fact Adolf Hitler was a casualty of one such attack, carried out on the night of 13 October 1918.  Of course, the Germans had, some three years before, introduced chlorine gas into the conflict.  On 22 April 1915, at Ypres, they launched the first such gas attack against French Canadian troops.

Anyway, the propaganda doesn’t unduly overwhelm the film, and these countervailing facts don’t severely undermine it.  It remains a marvelous film, beautiful and immersive, impossible to improve.

And, as for Candy (aka Colonel Blimp), you’ve got to admire a man who keeps a portrait of his wife on the same wall as his hunting trophies.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is showing again on Wednesday as part of the Matinee Classics season, further details can be found here.