This Is England: British Film and the People's War, 1939-1945

By Neil Rattigan | Go to book overview

Introduction

THE TITLE OF THIS BOOK IS BORROWED FROM THAT OF A CROWN FlLM Unit (CFU) film, a propaganda short made during World War II. The film in question was called The Heart of Britain when released in Britain but was renamed This Is England for release in the United States of America.1 I have adopted the title for its ironic potential. The change in name no doubt reflected the perception that to Americans "England" and "Britain" were synonymous. It is also true that to a large extent the propaganda filmmakers in Britain during the war thought the same way. The images of Britain they were concerned to produce and repeat in the name of the propaganda imperative of "the people's war" were those of a mythical England. Only occasionally, and with more than a hint of tokenism, did they remember to include, for example, the "Celtic fringe" of Britain in their images of national identity. Indeed, the images of England that were made to stand duty for Britain as a whole were more often than not those of an England drawn from idyllic (even bucolic) and nostalgic images, if they had any basis in reality, of the southeast of England, tempered by the images of the metropolis of London. I will touch upon this in many ways in my examination of individual films, documentary and fictional, which constitute the body of this work.

The impetus for this study came from a desire to see just how British films produced during the Second World War managed the issue of social class in Britain within the overall situation of total war and its concomitant propaganda needs. Several initial assumptions underpinned this project. First, that in 1939 when the British government declared war upon Germany, Britain was a class-based society, and that the rigid division of British society along class lines was its key defining structure, both socially and culturally. Second,

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This Is England: British Film and the People's War, 1939-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Illustrations 9
  • Acknowledgements 13
  • Introduction 15
  • I - Fictional Feature Films 37
  • 1: National Identity and Upper-Class Images the Films 39
  • 2: Leaders Leading the Films 75
  • 3: All in It Together the Films 128
  • 4: [Strange, Wonderful, Incalculable Creatures] the Films 182
  • 5: The Strange Case of the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp 213
  • II - Documentaries 233
  • 6: Documentary's Moment 235
  • 7: Off to a Flying False Start 253
  • 8: The Docudramas 264
  • 9: A Special Case 297
  • 10: The Myth of British Wartime Cinema 310
  • Notes 320
  • Select Bibliography 333
  • Filmography 345
  • Index 348
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