#323 The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp

(1943, The Archers)

“Can’t imagine anything more awful than to be a prisoner of war in England”

In 1930s Britain, a cartoon character emerged in one of the major papers, openly criticising the British establishment by being blundering, preposterous and full of hot air. Colonel Blimp was designed to be a satirical representation of British military officers who spoke with a great deal of authority on topics they didn’t understand and expressed very jingoistic views. In 1943, production team The Archers decided to develop this character further in a movie, exploring his life and expanding him into more than just a stereotype. And thus, The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp.

The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp focuses on Major-General Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), exploring his life through a series of lengthy flashbacks. Starting with his escapades in the Boer War in the early 20th century and leading through the World Wars, we witness his attempts to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of complicated diplomatic incidents and his growing affection for a woman named Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), and how this affects his decisions.

So, Colonel Blimp was created as a satire of the typical stiff-upper-lip tally-ho-what British national image of the early 20th century, highlighting the absurdity of colonialism and the misplaced patriotism that presented itself as being better than any other country on Earth. I approve with any attempt to deconstruct British attitudes, so I felt this could have been entertaining.

Except the problem is, the movie has absolutely nothing to do with the original political cartoons. Instead of a deconstruction of British military attitudes, instead we get a movie typical of 1940s Britain, with all the stereotypes that brings. Colonel Blimp is stuffy, overly polite and dry to the point of dehydration.

What’s worse, this movie is three hours long, pretty much using a whole hour for each war it covers. And all that stuff I mentioned in the previous paragraph? That’s hard to get through in 90 minutes. For three hours, it’s complete and utter torture.

Colonel Blimp suffers many of the same problems other Archers productions I’ve watched have suffered from. There’s probably a good story buried in here somewhere, but the problem is it’s strained through such a tight British sieve that it comes out the other end feeling utterly flat. There isn’t a single standout performance here, because everyone is so wrapped up in polite, emotionless Englishness that everyone fades into each other.

Plot-wise, this movie is also a confused mess. It’s a series of vaguely connected vignettes that don’t really gel together all that well. We start in the “present” and flashback suddenly to 1902, where Candy does something that gets him vaguely in trouble but then he’s not. Then he spends a load of time in an office talking about Sherlock Holmes. Then he’s in Berlin and trolling a group of people in a restaurant. Then he’s in a duel (off-camera, of course, because god forbid something exciting happens on camera). Then suddenly it’s World War One and he’s in Castle Anthrax from Monty Python & The Holy Grail.

And, truth be told, I stopped watching somewhere around here. I tried to get through this movie, I really did. I tried and tried and tried. I attempted to watch it three times, and every single time the dry, uninteresting acting and lack of logical plot structure had me glancing around for something else to entertain me. This might not seem like a fair assessment of the movie, but I got about two hours into its excessively long run-time, and if I wasn’t engaged in that amount of time, I find it hard to believe I’d be won over by its final hour.

The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp would have worked so much better if it actually felt satirical like its inspiration, but instead it’s the living embodiment of the British stereotype – stuffy, dry, and deluded over its own self-importance.

Starring Deborah Kerr, Roger Livesey & Anton Walbrook
Written by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Music by Allan Gray
Cinematography by Georges Perinal
Edited by John Seabourne Sr.

Favourite Scene: The duel looked like it might generate something interesting…until it cut away to people talking about it outside while it happened off-camera.
Scene That Bugged Me: Really hard not to see the French convent and think of Castle Anthrax. Which, of course, made me wish I was watching Holy Grail instead.

Watch it if: You like long, sprawling stuffy British movies
Avoid it if: You want political satire

Posted on November 4, 2014, in 1940s, Drama, United Kingdom, War and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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