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THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP

UK, 1943 (MIFF 1986, An Introduction to Michael Powell)

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's remarkable 163 minute Technicolor British wartime epic has at last been restored and is available for presentation once again in its full length version. Based on a highly original screenplay by Pressburger, and starring Roger Livesey in probably the best performance of his career, as Blimp (based loosely on the David Low cartoon of Colonel Blimp, the highly irascible traditional British bull-dog military officer type, represented in the film by General Clive Wynne-Candy), the film can now be seen as a set of romantic, ironic (if idealised! reflections on British character, sexuality and national ideologies, in a period when the height of Empire waned into the century of mechanised total war.

The film opens with "Blimp", the ageing Home Guard commander, General Wynne-Candy, being "arrested" in London in a Turkish bath, during some 1942 invasion exercises. The arresting officer, a young lieutenant, has decided to teach the Home Guard a lesson, by completing the exercises before they are due to start. The films ostensible propaganda point is achieved very quickly: the Second World War needs to be fought according to "realpolitik" not according to codes of chivalry. The film then moves into flashback (and here the discourses of the film become much more complex] showing Blimp's career from the turn of the century onwards: an incident in 1902 in which he stands up for British honour by duelling in Germany; action in the First World War: marriage to a nurse: an English gentleman's lifestyle in the "between wars" period, before he is finally reunited with his former duelling opponent, who comes to Britain as a refugee from the Nazis in the 1930s. In all this, however preposterously. Blimp appears a person of exceptional candour, warmth and generosity. Able to form relations with the best of his brother-officer class in Germany, even in early life conceding his belatedly beloved to his duelling opponent, he then marries the reincarnation of his ideal type nearly 20 years later, only to have her reappear yet again as his driver in the Second World War. (All three women, Edith Hunter, Barbara Wynne and Angela Cannon, are played by the youthful Deborah Kerr, in the performance which firmly established her in her career.) As one critic has argued, in "Blimp", contradictions in history, national ideologies, culture and sexuality become more important than the issues simply of Britishness and war.

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