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

By Neil Rattigan | Go to book overview

10
The Myth of British Wartime Cinema

LIKE THE SECOND WORLD WAR ITSELF, BRITISH WARTIME CINEMA became the object of mythmaking almost before the reverberations of the hostilities had faded away. In a way, the mythologizing of the British cinema's wartime achievements came about as the result of self-fulfilling prophesies made even before the war began. Although he does not indicate who these might have been, Stead states quite straightforwardly that "there were perceptive film-makers and critics who sincerely hoped and believed that war would finally push British cinema through some final barriers" into a "new maturity" of "sharper, tougher and … more realistic films" (1986, 62). In 1947, Dilys Powell, one of a handful of preeminent film critics in Britain, wrote for the British Council a summary of the achievement of British films during the war, ending her survey with praise for its newly found qualities and with an admonition to "maintain the faith"; the myth is already set in concrete:

We have seen how the semi-documentary "docudrama" film has
gained a hold over British imaginations. We have seen how even in the
film of simple fiction, the demand has grown for knowledge and un-
derstanding. The British no longer demand pure fantasy in their films;
they can be receptive also to the imaginative interpretation of everyday
life. The serious British film has thus found an audience as well as a
subject. If it preserves its newly-found standards of conception and
technique, it will find not merely a national, but an international audi-
ence. (1947, 40)

Similar sentiments can be found in a number of places where British wartime cinema is discussed in an immediate postwar context, for example, Balcon, Lindgren, Hardy and Manvell (1947), and Forman (1952).

-310-

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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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