BFI Classics: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Author: A.L.Kennedy

Having reviewed several of these books over the past few months and I purposefully kept The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp until the end. The greatest British film of all time is a debatable subject but for me personally it has to be a film made by Powell and Pressburger. No disrespect to the epic David Lean but for me P & P are simply the greatest film-making duo to ever exist.

A.L Kennedy comes at Blimp from an emotional angle which in my opinion is the only way to approach anything made by Powell and Pressburger. The surreal masterpieces made by the duo are based in a shocking reality that simply seems out of step with Britain. The kitchen sink dramas of the late 50’s and 60’s seem almost theatrical when you pare down and compare them to such films as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.

The book discusses the themes of nation and home within the film in relation to Kennedy, her growing up in Dundee and her feelings towards the British Empire. Being a proud Scot and Celt she had very little love for the Empire growing up yet strangely she found herself drawn to Clive Candy (Blimp himself). The amazing writing of Emeric Pressburger has made Clive human and this allows the audience no matter what your social background to emote with the man. His passion for the nation and his shared passion for a woman who married his best friend are equally tragic in a way. Clive is a dying breed but Kennedy dares to ask if this is a good thing on the whole. The character was loathed by Churchill as it displayed the contradictions at the heart of Empire and the heart of humans themselves.

Kennedy details the magnificent manifesto of the Archers which would dedicate itself to such beliefs as, they refused to be influenced by outside forces, they would make films to be profitable, all ideas must be a year head of all others and all of their films are to be truthful. The Archers were a production company set up by Powell and Pressburger to ensure that the films they made were exactly what they wanted. They recruited the best of the best to work with as talent such as Alfred Junge and Jack Cardiff were responsible for the astounding look of Blimp and then The Red Shoes. Kennedy also points out that P & P could be ruthless when it came to ensuring that the film was perfect. This streak possibly contributed to the downfall of The Archers ultimately fell apart due to in fighting and ego.

A.L Kennedy’s book is a total joy as it connects her own personal feelings with the remarkable work of Powell and Pressburger. Sometimes film analysis can be the oddest of places to exist and this book is not what you may expect. Kennedy emotes with Candy’s innocence and how his view of the Empire is colored by his naiveté. But the world that the Second World War gave birth to; an age of extreme violence and anything goes is not a step in a better direction. For all of Clive’s short-comings the world he believes in is actually a better one than the one who know post 1945. The author also focuses on the on-going question of home from the eyes of Clive’s best friend Theo (Anton Wallbrook). Here she clearly explains how European exile Pressburger uses the character as his mouthpiece to explain all that is wrong with Germany and the world. Theo like Pressburger has no home to go to having to be seen as suspicious on foreign soil due to the insanity of the German Empire.

Having kept this till last the pressure was on the book to deliver and boy A.L. Kennedy nails this down. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp may in fact be the greatest film ever made in my estimation and this marvelous book really gets the magic of the work of Powell and Pressburger. Anybody who has sit around pondering the meaning of Colonel Blimp for hours will happily find some answers in this book.

Aled Jones

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