It is interesting to note that films on war-themes were made in Britain even as the war was being waged. If Joseph Goebbels masterminded Nazi propaganda efforts, an attempt to match his oeuvre was made by Britain’s Humphrey Jennings. The key difference between the two filmmakers is that, while the former excelled in projection of vitriol and venom through film, the latter’s core focus was artistry and information dissemination. Just as Goebbels understood the new power of the audio/visual medium, Jennings’ great trilogy of war films stand above and apart “from the rest of the propaganda produced by the Ministry of Information’s Crown Film Unit. He was a true war artist in the way that Henry Moore’s drawings in the Underground and Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy transcend war and reassert the primacy of the human imagination.” (Porter, 2002) Jennings was also a great East Anglian poet and a key proponent of the 1930s British documentary movement. His trilogy of films was: Listen to Britain, Fires Were Started and A Diary for Timothy. These successful films illustrate an intimate and revealing picture of the British national spirit in waging the war.
Finally, though it was the documentary genre that took center-stage during the war, feature films about the ongoing war were also made. When France fell to the Nazi command in June 1940, the Crown Film Unit produced Britain at Bay. The film had contributions from prominent literary figures like J B Priestley. The writer’s most memorable role is in reciting Winston Churchill’s immortal speech “We will fight them on the beaches…” verbatim. Another classic of the genre is Night Mail, whose music was written by Benjamin Britten and whose screenplay was dealt by W H Auden. These two films were relatively grand in conception. But it is smaller films like Ordinary People which had had a powerful impact on the viewing public. The film captured the unraveling of nightmares of the British masses as the Nazi command unleashed the Blitz. As Scottish documentary maker John Grierson noted about such films, they opened up “the screen on the real world… documentary can achieve an intimacy of knowledge and effect impossible to the shim-sham mechanics of the studio, and the lily-fingered interpretations of the metropolitan actor.” (Gilbert, 2009, p. 12)
- Coultass, C. (1996, August). The Battle of the River Plate. History Today, 46(8), 23+.
- Gilbert, G. (2009, September 3). British Cinema at War. The Independent (London, England), p. 12.
- Porter, V. (2002). Strangers on the Shore: The Contributions of French Novelists and Directors to British Cinema, 1946-1960. Framework,43(1), 105+.
- CHILLS ‘N’ THRILLS; Spine-Tingling Tension Aplenty in Hammer Films’gothic Horror Tale. (2012, February 10). Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), p. 46.
- Classic Face of Horror Returns as Hammer Films Are Brought Back from the Grave. (2007, May 12). Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), p. 19.
- Golden Jubilee Special: 1980s Culture: When Greed Was Good but Music Was Mediocre; A Divided Nation, Nostalgia and Bland Pop Music Were the Cultural Trends of the 1980s, Writes Arts Editor Terry Grimley. (2002, June 26). The Birmingham Post (England), p. 16.
- Street, S. (1997). British National Cinema. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://www.questia.com
- Watney, S. (2006). Tunnel Vision: Photographic Education in Britain in the 1980s.Afterimage,33(4), 32+.
- Wilson, B. (2007). Notes on a Radical Tradition: Subversive Ideological Applications in the Hammer Horror Films. CineAction,(72), 53+.