Th impact of the Second World War on British Cinema

The Second World War was a pivotal event not just for Britain but also for the rest of Europe.  In the wake of the end of the war all art forms embraced questions about war in particular and human conflict in general.  One of the important British films to emerge in the Second World War milieu was The Battle of the River Plate. Though the film is largely drawn from real historical events surrounding the war, it is a feature film and meant for entertainment.  Though the story is broadly consistent with historical record, the dialogues were almost nearly invented.  The challenge for the film maker venturing the world war genre is the upkeep of historicity.  The British audience has always allowed a fair license for fiction in the genre for the imperatives of the narrative form. Even allowing room for fiction, the ultimate success depends on the degree of authenticity that the filmmaker could bring to his representation of real history.  It is for this reason that critics were quick to question director Powell’s choice of shooting existing warships, because,

“neither the Jamaica nor the Sheffield bore any resemblance to the original cruisers and credibility is strained when, for example, one sees an aerial shot of one of them in the middle of the battle with its guns secured fore and aft, or when after the action they are shown looking undamaged…Even in a far from totally successful British film Sink the Bismarck!, made in 1960 on another famous naval episode from the war, the sea battles were handled satisfactorily.” (Gilbert, 2009, p. 12)

During and after the Second World War, there was a trans-European focus on questions of existence, human nature, etc.  The Existential philosophical movement was a product of this cultural preoccupation.  France, which suffered as much loss as Britain during the war, was a nerve centre for post-war art, culture and philosophy.  British film industry was open to the abundance of war-related literature that was emanating from France.  Indeed, in the fifteen years following the end of the war, as many as nine French novels were adapted into cinema in Britain. And war themes were able to be integrated into various film genres. Some of the famous from the detective story genre include the following: Temptation Harbour (1947); The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (1953); The Green Scarf (1954); and Faces In the Dark (1960).  Comedies include Too Many Crooks (1959) and Tiger Bay (1959).  Notable films from other genres are The Naked Heart (1950), which was set in Quebec, So Little Time (1952) was a romantic tragedy, and Knave of Hearts (1954), was a tragi-comedy of manners about a French philanderer living in London. In addition, “two international film-makers temporarily based in Britain also used novels written by Frenchmen for their large budget productions: Moulin Rouge (1953) and The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)”. (Porter, 2002) These numerous Anglo-French collaborations illustrate the broad geo-political and cultural impact of the Second World War on British consciousness.

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