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

By Neil Rattigan | Go to book overview

7
Off to a Flying False Start

THE LION HAS WINGS WAS THE FIRST BRITISH PROPAGANDA FEATURE film of the Second World War. The GPO Film Unit had been commissioned shortly before the outbreak of war to make a film to be called If War Should Come, a prototype of the later plethora of instructional paternalistic documentaries, instructing the populace on what to do in the event of an air raid. According to Watt, who was involved in the production, reality in the form of the first, if false, air raid warnings intruded and the film was never released (1974, 126).

The Lion Has Wings was made by a commercial film producer, indeed, one of the best known in Britain at the time, Alexander Korda. There are some suggestions that plans for Korda to make a propaganda film boosting the image, capacity, and war-readiness of the RAF originated with Korda and Churchill somewhat ahead of the outbreak of the war (Kulik 1975, 232). It certainly seems that the appointment of Sir Joseph Ball to head the Films Division of the MI at the outset of the war meant that favorable treatment was made toward commercial film producers, and Korda took quick advantage of this atmosphere.

The exact extent of the MI's involvement in the planning and production is not clear. Manvell describes the film as having been "sponsored by the newly established and very 'amateur' and gentlemanly Ministry of Information" (1974, 61). Several writers repeat the claim by the film's associate producer, Ian Dalrymple (later in charge of the CFU, 1940–43), that Korda financed the film by "pawning his last insurance policy" (Sussex 1975, 124; Kulik 1975, 233; Christie 1978, 26). There was certainly a considerable degree of official involvement: the Air Ministry sent an RAF officer as liaison to facilitate research and filming actuality sequences (Powell 1987, 331–34), and considerable footage was supplied by the GPO Film Unit and newsreel companies.

-253-

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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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