Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp fails as propaganda. That is one of the reasons it is a great film.
A bumptious general’s life is retold in flashback. The 1943 film mourns the passing of a time when professional soldiers observed a code of honour.
It records a friendship between British general Clive Wynne-Candy and a German officer which spans the years from 1902 to 1942.
The Ministry of Information was against the film being made. Winston Churchill banned it from being exported.
Powell and Pressburger were prevented from using military equipment—so they stole the props.
The film takes its inspiration from David Low’s hugely popular cartoon of Colonel Blimp, a bumbling reactionary officer holding back the fight against fascism.
The image of an establishment more interested in upholding empire than fighting fascism was a dangerous one—as was the idea that Germans weren’t all Nazis.
The film uses beautiful stylised cinematic techniques to establish a fantasy ideal of England.
But satire lies at its heart. Candy is initially presented as a class‑bound old fogey. He then reappears in flashback as the very definition of English decency.
Deborah Kerr plays three separate roles as the various women in Candy’s life who reproach his wilfull blindness.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp plays at soldiers and plays with myths of nationhood. It is a film that is unclear of its loyalties—and it dazzles as a result.
A restored print of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is on now general release. Go to www.bfi.org.uk for more details