Comedy · War

Winston Churchill vs. Colonel Blimp

LIfe-long pals Image: kdjf eif
Roger Livesey (left) plays a bombastic yet lovable Colonel. Image: moviemail.com

When we (as in, yours truly) were young, we felt we were smarter than older generations because we could identify the celebrities du jour. We thought this somehow made us smarter, which is rather embarrassing to admit.

Now that we’re a bit older, we realize we don’t know as much as the generation before or after us, which is also rather embarrassing.

There’s a lot to be said about the experience and wisdom of older generations, but oftentimes the fresh perspective of younger generations is necessary.

This is one of the themes of the British WWII war dramedy The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a film about a young British army soldier who duels with, then befriends, a German soldier. He remains the German’s lifelong friend despite the miles between them, a mutual love for the same woman, and a mild skirmish known as WWI.

The main character is a clever young man who serves his country his entire life with the ideals he was raised, but as he grows older he becomes increasingly out of step with the perplexing twentieth century.

So, who on earth was Colonel Blimp?

Blimp was a popular British cartoon that lampooned stuffy, démodé leaders in government and the military. Blimp often makes circular arguments and/or arrives at ridiculous conclusions, most of which are based on the assumption that the British Empire Is Never Wrong. Here is an example:

Colonel Blimp in his element. Image: akdsjf
Colonel Blimp waxing eloquent in his Turkish bath. Image: Air Force Amazons

The movie Colonel Blimp is named Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), and when we first meet him, he is just like the cartoon figure pictured above. He is an awkward, blustery old man, complete with giant walrus moustache.

We also discover, however, that Wynne-Candy is also a man who loves deeply and, when he was a young man, he fell in love with a woman he didn’t marry – and never got over it. (This woman is Deborah Kerr, who plays three women in the film.) Not only that, his fondness and admiration for his German friend (Anton Walbrook), is a remarkable show of loyalty. Despite our initial impressions, we find ourselves becoming enamoured with Wynne-Candy.

Colonel Blimp is considered one of the greatest British films ever made; it was written and directed by the brilliant filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. One of the most remarkable scenes features a monologue by Anton Walbrook when his character applies for refugee status in England. The monologue starts at the 1:16 mark below. When Walbrook begins his speech, notice the camera never looks away, never blinks.

But when Colonel Blimp was released in 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill tried to have it banned, even though it was a commercial success – and even though it contained Walbrook’s inspirational monologue. When the ban attempt failed, he managed to delay its international release until 1945.

Colonel Blimp, we presume? Image: lskdfj
Colonel Blimp’s personality bears no resemblance to Winston Churchill. None what-so-ever. Image: Cinemas Online

One can’t be too hard on Churchill for this position. It was WWII, after all, and British civilians were asked to make great sacrifices for the war. He certainly wanted to keep civilian morale high, and having a pompous, slightly ridiculous character lampooning the military was, in his mind, likely defeating the purpose.

(The British media, like any other media, loves a whiff of scandal, and they discussed Churchill’s displeasure with this film at length in 2012, when Colonel Blimp was re-released. You can see an example here.)

If you’ve not seen The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, please set aside an evening for it. It’s a gorgeous film, and is ranked 45 out of the top 100 British films of all time. More importantly, however, you’ll be glad to make Colonel Blimp’s acquaintance.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook. Written & directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The Rank Organisation, 1943, Technicolor, 163 mins.

This post is part of the BRITISH EMPIRE Blogathon hosted by Phantom Empires and The Stalking Moon. Be sure to read all the other contributions!

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26 thoughts on “Winston Churchill vs. Colonel Blimp

  1. Thank you than you thank you for this review. This is a film that has long been on my radar (sort of) – I knew I wanted to see it, but your great review gave me the push I need. I’m going to do it!

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    1. Oh yes, please do! There is so much to love about this film – I hardly scratched the surface.

      You will love the character Colonel Blimp, despite how he’s portrayed in the beginning of the film. I guarantee it.

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  2. This is such a fabulous movie! It’s the second Deborah Kerr film I ever saw, when I was eleven. I haven’t seen it in years, though. I think I need to watch it again.

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      1. Oh, yeah, her star is already shining brightly here–and it just continued to grow.

        I actually prefer her in her 1940s films. After that, not so much. She was still divine, of course, just not so much to my taste.

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  3. Ruth, I’ve heard a lot about …Colonel Blimp, and your blog post was wryly satirical and yet also surpisingly touching. Besides, what’s not to love about Deborah Kerr? Great job, my friend, and have a great weekend!

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  4. Great review, Ruth! This movie deserves all the accolades that can be heaped upon it. Roger Livesey (man, I wish that guy had appeared in more stuff) always finds the humanity in Wynne-Candy, and creates a truly well-rounded, sympathetic and honorable character. The Archers filmmaking skill is breathtaking, razor sharp in its precision and technical prowess. Not to mention just how jaw-droppingly gorgeous COLONEL BLIMP looks, resplendent in Technicolor. Glad you highlighted that moving scene with Anton Walbrook, too – a really wonderful bit of acting, there.

    Thank you for contributing to the blogathon!

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    1. Jeff, that is an excellent way of putting it – Roger Livesey really did know how to bring humanity to Wynne-Candy, and how to keep the audience’s loyalty. There is so much to talk about with this film, it really deserves five posts instead of one.

      I hadn’t seen this film until earlier this year so when you and Clatyon announced the blogathon, I grabbed this choice as quickly as I could. Thanks for hosting!

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  5. “Now that we’re a bit older, we realize we don’t know as much as the generation before or after us, which is also rather embarrassing.” I’ve just reached the acceptance of my in-between status. It doesn’t make me happy.

    “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” is a glorious movie and you did a wonderful job of conveying its depth and beauty.

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    1. I’m encouraged to hear your acceptance of the “in-between” status although, as an admirer of your writing, I highly doubt that status applies to you at all.

      “Glorious” is a perfect way to describe this movie. To quote the old cliché, “I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me.”

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  6. Madame, I would like to thank you for introducing me to my new favourite movie of all time, replacing long-timer CASABLANCA (at least a 30-year champ) for the top spot. When you chose it I had to get past my fears that it was a psychedelic, post-modern take on the comic strip, and I watched it. I swooned. I now own the criterion, and I’ve watched it about 30 times since then. No joke. At my age ($&) I’ve seen the world change in some hideous ways, and many of my concepts of politeness and kindness are considered nearly medieval…this is just such a poem to my kind.

    Thanks SO much for participating; you’ve actually changed my life. 🙂

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    1. Aw, go on, Clayton! I’m so glad you discovered this film. (I’ve also got my eye on the Criterion version; just need to drop more hints about it – ha ha!)

      Isn’t this a fantastic movie? Like you, when I first heard about it, I thought it might be a post-modern flick with weird camera angles and cheesy music. Boy, I couldn’t be more wrong!

      Thanks so much or organizing this blogathon. When I saw you were hosting, I snatched Colonel Blimp as quickly as I could.

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  7. For me one of the finest films ever made and one of the most ambitious – an extraordinary film – you can take any 10-minutes chunk out of the and it would be able to display its audacity and grace, every time – great review.

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  8. Guess what, I haven’t seen this one, but your post and the raves in the comment thread have really impressed me. All you folks with great taste must be trusted and I must check it out. Thanks!!

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  9. I love movies that are character driven and this sounds like it is one of them. Love the theme of learning from older and younger generations, too. Thanks for letting us know about this movie. I really do feel like I live under a rock sometimes, as I haven’t heard of so many famous movies. Thanks for lifting up my rock and letting the sun shine in, Ruth!

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    1. Now, Shari, we both know that your contributions to the food blogosphere outweigh my contributions to the movie side of things. If you were busy watching all these movies, where would your readers find some of their fave new foods? 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

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      1. I meant to respond to this earlier, Ruth. Sorry for the delay. You are so sweet. That was such a nice thing for you to say. I disagree about my food contributions outweighing your movie contributions, but thanks for making my day. I love all the things I learn by reading your movie blog, and am very grateful to have found a fellow classic movie lover and foodie friend!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Powell & Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes” and “Black Narcissus” have completely overshadowed their other excellent work (somehow, though, I never lose sight of “I Know Where I’m Going!”) for me. Thanks for the reminder about “Col. Blimp,” which I’ve always enjoyed. I knew nothing of its back story – that the character was based on a cartoon, that Churchill had tried to ban the film – fascinating stuff. As in most films that he appears, Anton Walbrook is a real highlight/gem/strong point in this one. Just wish he had made more English language films.

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  11. One of those where the backstory is almost as good as the on-screen action. It’s always lowered my impression of Churchill (a national hero if ever there was one!) but I do understand his reasoning – the British public love nothing more than tearing down their heroes so best not to give any extra ammunition. And what is this special Criterion DVD you (and other commentors) are so enthused by? Perhaps an addition to my Christmas list 😉

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    1. Oh yes, start dropping mad hints re: the Criterion release. This will give your loved ones plenty of time to secure it before the big day!

      I was surprised by Churchill’s reaction to this film. I mean, look at Anton Walbrook’s speech! That’s enough to fill any heart with pro-Allied sentiment.

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  12. Wow, wonderful review. Although I’ve seen many other Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger collaborations, I have yet to watch this film. Well, looks like I know what is going straight to the top of my christmas list. Thanks for your thoughts on the film!

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