A prime example of everything that a war film should be all in a little less than three hours. Something that, ironically, feels hard enough for Hollywood to capture so it was up to directing pair Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger of Britain to make The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp amidst the Second World War. Many of their typical trademarks are present in here as always but their names as always are synonymous with quality. But something like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp shows a different spin on the war film, for it also blends elements of romance and comedy. This sort of humanistic angle on a war film is one thing that makes such films as powerful as they are and even if it weren’t Powell and Pressburger’s best film, it surely will go down as one of them for nevertheless it still stands as one of their most beautiful works to date.
Telling the story of Clive Candy, spanning through four decades that go from the Boer War to WWII, and the many romances, comedies, and tragedies he encounters along the way. Told mostly within a flashback format, the narrative that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger bring their viewers on is a most intriguing experiment, especially for the time – but also one that seems so life-affirming, because of what it celebrates through the course of its 163 minute runtime. It seems so rare that a war film would have been made celebrating humanity for what it is, and considering the time period in which it was made, it still remains one of the very best of the sort. It’s a film that shows audiences what damage has war done to people’s perception of humanity and how one tries to retain a sense of humility, and sadly within years this multi-faceted nature for such films has only been abandoned in favour of one-sided films that simply vote patriotism over enemy.
For one the fact that The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp tells its story as a romantic comedy is one aspect of where it still remains such a unique product even to this day, because the seems to be a lack of optimism found within the common war film that only drenches the genre in a portrait of remorseless misery. However, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in typical Powell-Pressburger fashion makes every pivotal point of the relationships between Roger Livesey and Deborah Kerr, no matter what role she’s playing. And within each time frame, a growing sense of nobility within Candy as he grows to survive another war just from his own experiences, because he sees in every one of Deborah Kerr’s roles a human he finds a connection with. It also helps that both actors are excellent within their roles, helping make a sense of growth in Blimp’s perspective more believable.
But it’s most fascinating to me how Powell and Pressburger play around with the film’s narrative structure, because it already retains a message within itself. It’s a structure that feels so empathetic towards how people see these mindless acts of terror from all across the world, because it is a cycle that only repeats itself within time – and for reasons that we do not know. And in the process we lose many of our loved ones, and for people who went outside it creates a personal trauma, for oftentimes we know these people do not do it at their own will – it is a moral code that keeps them going out on behalf of their own country. As expected of a film from the Archers, the production design within capturing every one of the eras whether it be the sets or the costumes are always hypnotic to the eyes, for it only feels expected of them to continuously provide one beautiful film after another, but how they also form a distinct visual approach for each era captures perfectly how times change, yet morality remains intact.
It also feels most fitting that the Archers would address their message by taking something that would be most recognized of its time through the addressing of “Colonel Blimp” in our protagonist Clive Candy. For the satirical Colonel Blimp comics have already been popular during their time, Powell and Pressburger still retain that touch from the humanity of the story and how their morals have aged within time. And it’s a message that still feels relevant today, because we recognize that Colonel Blimp is a figure who would have stood for peace, and yet as time went by his message only seemed to have felt all the more dated. But as human beings, we come to ask ourselves, why does it have to come to this? Why can’t we all get along like we know we should? And Powell and Pressburger don’t limit this impact only to their culture, but it’s the universal impact of what they believe in that keeps The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp afloat, even today.
And to this day, it still remains unbelievable that not many war films would have topped what The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp has achieved – because it is a film that celebrates humanity and optimism especially during the war, for it was something that seemed like such a forgotten concept. When one sees that The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is not merely a film about war anymore, there’s a resonant effect that it leaves that only has its own voice out for many other people to listen. As time went by, why has a desire for peace only seemed like a forgotten concept? This is a film that celebrates what was most needed, and the beauty of its humanity is still something to behold. And at that, it is time to wake up and set ourselves up in order to strive for the better. Because that’s not a hard thing to do, isn’t it?
Watch a clip right here.
All images via Janus Films.
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Starring Deborah Kerr, Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook
Release Year: 1943