War, propaganda and conservative values - 1

Posted by Helen Friday, September 08, 2006

This posting is by way of an experiment, in that it is the first version of an article that will appear in the Conservative History Journal, though in a somewhat amended version. My great hope is that some of our readers will also start sending in pieces that might go up on the blog first (fully accredited, of course) and develop into a long article or even a pamphlet in due course. (Hint: the fiftieth anniversary of the Suez debacle is coming.)

Now, off with that first person singular and on with Tory Historian’s hat.

Bank holiday week-end used to mean the Notting Hill Carnival to Tory Historian, who lived in that area long before it became really fashionable (some of it was even then but we don’t talk about that) and invaded by politicians, journalists and hangers-on. Nowadays, attitude to the Carnival tends to be: “been there, done that, might go again if there is a visitor”.

Something else was called for. Luckily, the National Film Theatre (an excellent institution and the only cinema that shows films worth seeing) is having a two-month Carol Reed season.

Sir Carol Reed, known chiefly for “The Third Man” and “The Fallen Idol” was one of this country’s greatest directors, versatile, imaginative and wonderfully skilled in his craft. His earlier films gave the most entrancing picture of middle-class England with all the good points and bad. Firsts for Tory Historian: the film of Priestley’s “Laburnum Grove”, an unexpectedly tense and humorous send-up of middle-class life in the London suburbs of the early thirties and “Kipps” in which Michael Redgrave portrays H. G. Wells’s draper’s assistant who goes on to greater things.

During the war, Reed, like many others turned his attention to war work, commonly known as propaganda. He made a number of superb films as a civilian, later joining the Army Kinematographic Service, where he made official training films and such classics as “The Way Ahead”.

In the immediate aftermath of the war he made some of the finest dark thrillers of which “The Third Man” is the greatest, going on to vast extravaganzas like “The Agony and the Ecstasy” and “Oliver”.

On Bank Holiday week-end the NFT showed “Night Train to Munich” a spy thriller aimed at the American audiences as much as the British ones (Reed being one of the few British directors whose films were popular in the States), “The Young Mr Pitt” a biopic of the great Prime Minister and a seventeen-minute short, “A Letter from Home”, made under the auspices of the Ministry of Education for foreign consumption.

Let me deal with the short film first. It featured a young and heart-breakingly beautiful Celia Johnson as a mother whose husband is at sea and children in New York, being looked after by an American family. Celia Johnson's own husband, Peter Fleming was away for the six years of the war.

She sends the little ones a loving letter, describing her day, which is full of the “same old boring things”. The film shows the reality of those boring things, the nightly raids, the casualties, the difficulties of getting even the simplest meal together, sleeping in the shelter, learning to deal with incendiary bombs and, above all, the determined, unvanquishable spirit of Londoners.

Made in 1941, it was intended to convince Americans of the reality of the hardships Britain was suffering from but also of the indomitability of the people. As the other two films, particularly “The Young Mr Pitt”, the short film emphasises the commonality of Britain and America – the war the former is fighting is for the ideas and principles espoused by the latter.

1 Responses to War, propaganda and conservative values - 1

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. I loved Celia Johnson in In
    Which We Serve. Her husband, the destroyer captain, is played by Noel Coward. They send the kids to bed. She mixes him a drink. Then, trying to stay as calm as possible, she manages to say, "do you think there is going to be a war, darling." He pauses, then says, "yes, I think there is." All very reserved and "stiff upper lip." A very touching scene.

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