Propaganda and the Citizen in British Feature Films of World War II

Josephine Lomax
December 2004

When George, the courageous youth evacuated to the country was shot while trying to warn his country of a Nazi invasion, they were there.  When the HMS Torrin sunk in the seas of Crete and bold British sailors tried to make their way to life rafts on the slim chance that they would make it through enemy fire and be saved, they were there.  Their eyes followed these trials and tribulations with as much emotion as could be expected.  A few most likely cried.  But in that moment they, the British movie-going public, were all united in the very fact that they were experiencing what many others had experienced and trodden down similar emotional pathways.  George had been shot hundreds of times before for the benefit of thousands of people and each sinking of the Torrin was part of a greater purpose.   Each scene captured their own moment of reality, but when the audience exited the theater these scenes regressed to a more emotionally bland fictitious nature. 

Feature films in Britain during World War II were well attended and did exactly what they were supposed to do: they engaged the audience and they produced a message.  Coincidentally, this is just what good propaganda should do too.  What that message is and how strongly it is put across depended on the film, but among the films In Which We Serve (1942), Millions Like Us (1943), Went the Day Well? (1942), and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), the uniting factor is that they were concerned with the rate of change in the lives of British people, particularly social change, and how identity and divisions can, did, and should have played out.  All four of these films attempted to create characters people could relate to, situate them in an environment the audience could just as easily place themselves in, and produce a certain reading about the British character that generated a solid patriotic foundation that promoted unity.  While they did this, these films were integrating the documentary film movement of the 1930s and dealing with the propaganda needs of the British government through the Ministry of Information. The British populace was ready for change, and the feature films gave it to them in more ways than just new visual techniques.


Film and Propaganda
The two terms: film and propaganda, are not terms that can remained undefined in this study because each refers to a general category of ideas.  Propaganda, for instance, can be broken up into types of propaganda, not simply by the mediums they are used in such as film or print, but by the content and intent of the message it contains.  One way to divide up our understanding is laid out by Jowett and O'Donnel with their classifications of black, white, and gray.  Black propaganda will not be addressed in this paper due to the fact that it deals with the very type of blatant manipulation that British propagandists could not and would not attempt.[1]  Totalitarian governments are notorious for the use of black propaganda since they have no one to answer to and a self interested set of beliefs to push; the lack of restraint on the quality of the information is what particularly marks black propaganda.  Democracies or any system in which the government is in a position to answer to the choices of the majority have a difficult time using black propaganda since the people usually have enough freedom of choice to identify it as misinformation and reject it.  Jowett and O'Donnel refined their definition by saying "white propaganda comes from a source that is identified correctly, and the information in the message tends to be accurate."[2]  White propaganda seems to be able to present an idea but not insist that the audience must believe it.  This mild approach allows the propagandist to possibly gain credibility over time and later attempts at persuasion could be more successful.  Gray propaganda is unusual in that there is an element of question over its accuracy or bias, but often does not contain enough of a malicious or destructive intent that an audience will feel more than a little disturbed by it.  Both white and gray will be the focus of the propaganda of which these films are examples. 

Propaganda can also be either agitative or integrative depending on whether the propagandist is trying to get an audience to enact immediate change of some magnitude or to simply gain the audience's ear as a passive and unresisting group.  Film itself is an interesting medium in that in the immediate sense it encourages behaviors that are integrative but the overall effect over time is agitative.  Within the motion picture itself a direct propagandistic message will more often than not be spotted, but just as inconsequential topics of interest are more likely to be viable to change, the way people live rather than what they say has a powerful impact on an audience.[3]  Fashion, eating habits, or speech patterns are just part of the background that must make up a movie, but the power of the setup can be keenly felt.  Unobtrusive tasks in film such as buying practices, or slang in conversational speech, could create massive change by influencing the real practices of the audience members, whereas a stirring speech appealing for just such a change might fall flat just because if the personal and identifiable nature of daily habits as opposed to a call to action.[4] 

The key to the power of motion pictures is the ability to make emotional appeals and the wide variety of ways it has available to gain a response that seems personal and individual, but in a way that applies to large groups of people that would not necessarily have points of commonality.  Luhmann, a German researcher on the personal impact of various forms of media, notes that "it can more or less become a programming consideration on the part of the entertainment industry to win and keep the (short) attention span of participants by offering them references back to their own life, or, one might say, Ôyes, that's exactly it' experiences.  The attempt to approach the individuality of the individuals' own consciousness will then be made by way of programme diversification."[5]  The key is to fabricate reality in a way that allows the audience to displace themselves into experiences they would not have themselves but which they could see themselves having.  Suspension of disbelief and a willingness to create a fantasy world were part of what made this such an appealing medium to those who craved escapism.

There are essentially two genre subsets that hold the most apparent relevancy to the films that will be discussed later: feature films and documentaries.  For the purpose of this paper, feature films are defined as those that are fictional in plot even if they are based on actual events.  The feature film is the fantasy, no matter how convincing the presentation, and these films made up the majority of the market in Britain by the late 1930s and on into the war years.  Feature films made up the majority of production of film at this time, but in addition to sheer volume they also commanded greater attendance.  Documentaries were less popular and less frequently released.  In most cases, they seemed to present a more authentic version of the truth than a feature film because much of the point of making one was to show life with way it was without dramatizing it.  Even if documentaries are clouded by bias and the possibility of omission of important information, they maintain a connection to reality that is less easily challenged.  The only important factor that led to the selection of feature films for this study is that feature films were and are widely avowed to make better conduits of propaganda than documentaries.  If propaganda is not entertaining then people will not watch it, given that they are in a position to make a voluntary choice to do so.  Feature films are more entertaining as is evidenced by their popularity.  It was to feature films that the British government clearly entrusted their propaganda, to the great dismay of the documentary makers, and therefore it is with the feature films that the emphasis of interest shall lie.


The Setting

British Cinema in the 1930s
Before British film can be examined, it is necessary to discuss Hollywood films for comparison.  There was a large import market for these films and they formed the main competition for British films.  To perhaps put it more accurately, British films in Britain were the minor competitor against Hollywood films.  Beginning in the twenties, and arguably ever since, American film has dominated the British market.  Even when the British studios tried to cooperate or directly compete with Hollywood with an eye to making distinctively British films (a concept rife with problems regarding what individuates a nation's citizen and what it means to be British), there still existed strong ties to the traditions of Hollywood.  "The popular understanding of cinema [was] so closely based on the watching of American films that to offer something too different [was] almost to revolt against the very idea of cinema,"[6] notes Buscombe.   By the late 30s there was a distinctive attempt to match Hollywood budgets and produce films that were of comparable quality to those that were coming from America.  They were succeeding in imitation, but American films continued to appeal more to British audiences.  The government and the British film industry itself couldn't help but want to know the answers to two important questions by the late 30s: "why were there so few good British films and why were British films so disinclined to deal with what is generally accepted as reality?"[7]

One of the great controversies surrounding the early development of the film industry in Britain involved a bill passed in 1927 to prevent the complete domination of American films in the British market, the Cinematograph or Films Act.[8]  The bill was naturally good intentioned, but inadvisably optimistic about the strength and ability of the British studios then in operation.  The stipulated that theaters in Britain would be required to book a certain number of British films per year and that this percentage would increase each year.  The expectation was that this artificially created demand would raise the revenues that British studios received and allow them to make more films and thus create a loop that stimulated the industry.  Blind booking and advance booking of films was also made illegal to prevent American studios from extracting binding obligations to show too many American films.  But because films made in Britain were all eligible to fulfill the quota, the American studios could still help fill the quota so long as they made the films in Britain.[9] 

The result of the Cinematograph Act was that as the quotas rose but British studios found that they could not meet the forced demand.  They began to simply make films as fast as possible to meet the quota.  Quality in these circumstances took an expected nosedive and the infamous "quota quickies" became the norm for native film production.  American film companies made quickies in Britain just as British studios did with no greater motivation for quality.  Many of these films still lost money despite the cuts in cost that filmmakers attempted.  The eventual slide of the reputation of the films was inevitable and by association the entire British film industry suffered a loss of public faith.[10]  In 1938, the Act was revised with slightly lower quotas and a few other amendments, but would probably have had similar effects if war had not broken out.  All that the quota managed to accomplish was to damage the general opinion of British film in the eyes of critics and of the public as allow the continued downward economic slide of the British studios as opposed to the growth and renewal that had been expected.

Beyond the concern over the quantity of good British films, there was of course an issue about the quality and content of the supposedly good films that were being made.    Film critics and intellectuals who kept an eye upon mass media and its function in society were bothered by how the cinema in Britain was pandering to a low denominator.  To the critics, these shabby films encouraged passivity and a lack of thought that could contribute to the creation of an apathetic and uninformed populace.  Especially at risk were "the unemployed. . . women. . . and juveniles"[11] all of whom seemed less able to cope with the influence of the film medium from the intellectual's patriarchal perspective.  This could have seemed alarming indeed if films were as damaging as the intellectuals feared since "by 1938 some 20 million tickets were being sold every week."[12] Five million of these tickets were purchased by people who went at least twice a week.  The alarmist sentiments that started in the 20s and persisted through the 30s might have been partially due to the feeling that this was a sudden development.  No real provisions were ready should films suddenly supplant other forms of popular entertainment that were considered more acceptable or mentally engaging. 

Besides the possibility that film was encouraging passivity, there was the certainty that American film was having an impact on British culture through language and thought patterns.  This was not a product of direct propagandizing attempts by American filmmakers, but simply a consequence of exposure.  As mentioned earlier, film propaganda is most effective when it involves an issue that people do not care about or that involves lifestyle patterns.  Even if British filmmakers could compete for the attention of the people frequenting the theater, they were often doing it in the same terms and using the same tactics that made Hollywood films so popular.  The self conscious nature and blatant copying of Hollywood in the films of the 1930s did not meet the critical standards for a worthy indigenous film culture.

Worries expressed in the supposed "middlebrow" quality of the films that were popularized feed right into the mass culture and prevalence of this "middlebrow" cinema which drew greater crowds and seemed to be easier for the majority of the populace to relate to.  The relationship the term middlebrow shared with "mainstream" culture was "particularly close."[13]  The development of mass media in general almost necessitates a standard of mediocrity because, by its terminology, it implies compromise to tastes so that it can appeal to the largest market and make itself more profitable.  Orwell noted how "to an increasing extent the rich and the poor read the same books, and they also see the same films and listen to the same radio programmes,"[14] and that suggests that even if certain sectors of the population were complaining about the lack of quality that the majority did not mind partaking in this mainstream culture.  Films directed at this middlebrow sense of taste sold remarkably well, but lacked of "vital social, political and international matters"[15] that would have elevated it to something more.  

Part of the reason that films of that time period lacked much serious content had to do with the system of self-censorship.  Rather than have a government board editing scripts, it was left to the studios themselves to regulate their own content.  The studios turned out to be particularly effective in their job.  This system that had been lain out by the government didn't really allow for any controversial material and neutralized much of the possible impact, leaving American films to largely be the ones that spoke to a sense of individual experience and allowed British audiences to identify with.[16] 


The Documentary Movement
The edge that British films eventually found and developed during the war years played off of the documentary movement.  This was a documentary film focused artistic movement, spurred in great part by the Scottish filmmaker John Grierson and the other artists he recruited.[17]  His films were comprised primarily of common people doing everyday tasks, and the acclaim he received for his work allowed him to continue it with a fair amount of government support.  The contrast is obvious to what Hollywood films and the British imitation of those films offered: the real world versus wild escapism, the common person compared to the actor, everyday life standing next to fictional accounts.  Perhaps documentary and its feature film version of semi-fiction were part of a reaction that was long overdue in giving British film a new and distinctive voice.  Intellectuals who abhorred the way film was settling for middling quality for the sake of entertainment found the documentary makers a breath of fresh air.  Their lofty tastes were easy to indulge in when they seemed to be disconnected from the rest of the populace.  In 1940, Priestly commented about how intellectuals wrote in "comparative security"[18] and it was easy to criticize from such a privileged position.  Their standards for reality were a bit stiffer then the rest of the movie-going public. 

This is not to say that this new sense of realism did much to damper the outrageous nature or dialogue in some of the highly regarded feature films that fall into this documentary style; rather, documentary style provided themes and techniques that were conveniently utilized.[19]  One technique was a new emphasis on the common person.  Most other films had upper and middle class characters at the center of the exposition.  The British cinema had been rife with character types, which were stereotypes rather than well developed individuals.  The insistence upon more realistic and even handed portrayal of these characters gave the audience the possible chance for a sense of commonality; these characters could be people rather than farcical prototypes.  The montage was a particular favorite of the semi-realistic feature film that played off of the technique of the documentary.  The way the narrative flowed around a series of small vignettes gave documentary inspired movies a peculiar feeling that the Hollywood ones did not subscribe to with their more linear plot structures.  When a montage played, it tried to democratically devote time to many different subject matters, and gave off more an impression of people driving a plot than a plot being articulated through people.

Realism is not the same concept as reality and the representations of what was real in documentary films could be just as flawed as the feature films.  The way that people were presented in documentaries was supposed to be based on what happened to regular workers on an average day.  This was a realistic portrayal, but not necessarily reality because the way that filming and editing presented the subjects still suffered from a perspective problem.  "One class [was] constructed in the image or from the point of view of another,"[20] notes Higson.  Stereotypes peppered documentaries just as efficiently as it infested the pure fiction.  Even if the people were acting more convincingly like regular citizens, whatever class they were in documentary style film, the expectations of how these people thought and where they fit in society still permeated and limited the universal and egalitarian intention of the documentary.  The makers of the documentaries were still working within the system even if they gave glimpses to the outside. 


The Characters

The Ministry of Information
At the start of the war, the Ministry of Information (MoI) was given the job of managing propaganda.  While centralizing the efforts to distribute and think up propaganda may have seemed like a good idea, it hinged upon a couple assumptions that were faulty.  The first assumption was that there would be consistency, but this was quickly dashed by the frequent change of leadership in the MoI.  The lack of consistency and competence early on earned the MoI a somewhat unfair epithets of "Ministry of Muddle" or "Ministry of Disinformation."[21] The various heads of the Ministry may have had different goals, but that was not so much a problem as the fact that they were in office to little time to establish those goals.  It was not surprising, then, when the early efforts of the MoI were more a comedy of errors than any sort of effective propaganda.  In the lack of effectiveness of propaganda, the mistaken second assumption came into play: that the Ministry and the assorted individuals it assembled knew how to speak to the people.  One of the most famous bungles: ÔYour Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution, Will Bring Us Victory,' highlighted the disjunction between those who fought the war and those who saw themselves benefiting from eventual victory.  More directly, this seemed like a request from the ruling class to the masses that missed the mark with the majority of its target audience.  In that case, it insulted many with its elitist overtones, but while it could have simply been bad wording there was also the possibility of it having been a predictable consequence of attitude.  "But is not England notoriously two nations, the rich and the poor"[22] asked Orwell, and the insulting slogan suggests that this is not an unfounded question to ask. 

Chapman observed that "particularly in Britain, there was a deep antipathy towards the idea of propaganda, which was widely considered an ÔunBritish' practice.  This attitude was evident both on the part of the public and in official circles."[23]  To use propaganda in a democracy seemed almost counterproductive when put in contrast with the black propaganda in full force in Germany and Russia under dictatorships.  Propaganda in a democracy had to be less direct (therefore grey or white) and more inclusive of diverse groups.  White and grey propaganda were what the MoI ended up attempting and with it the MoI emphasized Britain as a country of diversity, a positive and fairly easily accepted message.  Unfortunately, they did not tap into this populist sentiment very well when the MoI utilized film its first and last time as a solo project.

The history of the MoI and film started out shaky and never got much better.  The mass closure of cinemas by the British government was the first trouble that the MoI had at the beginning of the war.  It made pursuing any sort of film option appear less feasible.  Logically, it seemed to make sense to order the closure of the cinemas, having easily targeted locations where large numbers of people congregated seemed like a recipe for disaster once bombing started.  However, when it was evident that not only was this harming morale but was a ridiculous precaution to take at the time when they were not being immediately showered by a hail of bombs, it became, like the evacuation scare, a quickly abandoned policy.  The British studios heaved a sigh of relief as yet another threat to their very existence was narrowly averted, just as many threats had been since Hollywood had dominated the scene. 

Beyond the closure of cinemas, the MoI had other dealings with the film industry in connection with its efforts to make a feature film for propaganda purposes.  The MoI enlisted the help of the Ealing studio and the highly accredited Alexander Korda for the production of The Lion Has Wings.  The MoI was aware that film was a powerful way to spread propaganda due to the massive number of people it reached, but they were far too heavy handed in this first approach to film.  Tom Harrisson commented, "Already by the middle of 1940 people had become extremely conscious of this thing called propaganda. ... It was not exactly that they did not Ôlike' it but that they were uncomfortably detecting it, and this was where the switching off came in.  Many were disappointed that there was more visible Ôpropaganda' in the Ministry films than they at first expected."[24]  In this, The Lion Has Wings suffered some of the worst criticism.  People didn't like propaganda, and they picked it out with an almost startling level of awareness.  But they still went to see the film so that much at least was in the MoI's favor. Oddly, as audiences left the film, the response to the fictional components made it entertaining enough to be given largely positive reviews.

Once The Lion Has Wings had been made and the Ministry came to terms with its limited filmmaking abilities, they decided it was too costly and too ineffective to make their own films.  At that point, the MoI handed over the responsibility of propaganda to the feature film companies.[25]  The agreement the MoI made with the few studios left in Britain was that so long as the government got to look at and generally approve the scripts then feature film companies could have a free hand at making movies.  The implication was that these movies would contain pro-British sentiments, which falls in the realm of the white and grey propaganda the MoI was working on.[26]  This was rather like that of the censorship agreement that had been applied for more than a decade.  It seemed to be a good idea since this meant the studios could continue doing what they did best, entertain people and try to make money, and the MoI was saved the expense of trying to use a medium for propaganda in which they seemed to be none too adept.  The only thing that caused any sort of ripple among the film community in Britain about using feature films so heavily came from the documentary film makers.  The documentarians felt that there was too much emphasis being placed upon the feature film and their particular form of artistic expression was being overlooked, despite its valid and important contributions to film expression.[27]  In 1940, at the beginning, when melodrama and the continued Hollywood style was in force, this was a point of contention. The films over the course of the war began to incorporate more elements of the realist movement and coincidentally became better received by documentary enthusiasts and critics.  By the end of the war the majority of the feature films had become part of what was considered a Golden Age in British film.[28]  The MoI's decision to stay out of feature films turned out to be one of their best in addition to probably being highly effective.


Whose War Is It?
It would be entirely unfair to neglect the audience of interest that this propaganda was being directed at.  The intended audience was so broad as to include all of the British people because unity among the diverse was the rallying factor for propaganda.  The obsession with unityÑwith commonality despite class, gender, or ethnic groupÑmade sense from a big picture point of view: if the people see themselves as one and identify their strongly held convictions with those of the nation then they will be more likely to support the war effort.  To mobilize their populace for war, the mentality that was cultivated was one of "a unified land of Ôordinary people'."[29]  In light of deeply rooted class divisions, this idea would require some rationalization.  While class hierarchy was also part of what caused people to identify with being British, it was a potential source of division and therefore weakness.[30]  Essentially, differences within the populace were put aside but not denied.  There was no attempt to make everyone the same or even to flatten out differences, difference could be freely admitted.[31]  The way that the discourse was approached was purposefully misleading in presentation as people were allowed to think of Britain as "a family with the wrong members in control"[32] in Orwell's words, when those in control had no intention of allowing real change or relinquishing power.  The effect can be summed up succinctly if we see the tension as "the need for concessions to the lower orders" as opposed to "the need for reconciliation without readjustment."[33]

The need for reconciliation did not sit as well with people in the "lower orders" as much as it appealed to the upper echelons.  The idea of equity of sacrifice[34] may have sounded like a sweetly persuasive argument to those writing it, who almost certainly were not the ones going hungry during rationing.  As Orwell put it, "internally, England is still a rich man's Paradise.  All talk of Ôequality of sacrifice' is nonsense."[35]  But a country at war is under even more restricted material circumstances, and the comparisons of living situation could lead to a more resentful and explosive attitude in poorer people who have very little.  An example was the horrible backlash from people from the country who were forced to quarter evacuee city children.  One of the greatest complaints was the very attitude of the children, which was not nearly as respectful as these adults had felt was warranted.  While the government and the status quo would want reconciliation, the other approach that made concessions would have been the more effective for morale among the majority.  People wanted change because past systems had not lead to a world they could live safely within.[36]  Therefore, from the outset the British government knew that it had to provide some alternative to the status quo to get the populace to mobilize.[37]

To make concessions and obliquely promise a change in the way that government and the social order functioned was dangerous ground for the government to tread upon.  The remarkable lack of control that the MoI forced on film early in the war exposed confidence in the traditional roles as being flexible enough to bend at the moment and not brittle enough to be completely eliminated under the new socialist and populist pressure that they would be under.  They were not worried about what filmmakers would do, even if they knew they would not like the content of all of it.[38]  The documentary style exhibited a useful populist and democratic bent that may have lent itself to the attitude at the time for change.  The feeling among the people was that there would be less room for selfish consideration[39] and even a leveling of the class barriers.  While film in and of itself might show a lifestyle that was more evenly distributive or even glorify the lower classes as being better able to adapt to the modern world, the prospect of change seemed almost a foregone conclusion.  The idea of agitating for it was one that didn't appear to materialize.  So long as the government didn't outright deny the possibility of any change, it appeared that they could feasibly present this sort of propaganda with a minimum of risk.  The illusion of equality during war that mass deprivation of certain resources created might have convinced the people that it was possible and probable that greater equality was inevitable.  However, the feature films of the common people pulling together would have strong psychological reinforcement while having effected no real lasting change.  Once people left the theater material circumstances would be the same even if their thought patterns were altered.

An intriguing element to the presentation of the propaganda was the emphasis on unity among diverse people as exemplified in the film Millions Like Us.[40]  Everyone was British and the essential humanness was what made them all ordinary.  But the characters could only arrive at that realization by accepting differences and putting aside problems that arose because of those differences.  Going back to the idea of the evacuee children: while the people in the country complained of the children's presence, they still did their best to accommodate them, such as in the film Went the Day Well?.  The war effort was portrayed in films such as Millions Like Us in a way that elevated the conception of British citizen as individual over British citizen as discreet unit among the whole of the country. This emphasis on individuals could have been part of an effort to mobilize common people as a whole but stay away from the sort of language and social constructions that were more typical of Russia and the communists with homogenous communist masses.[41]  The British propagandists were careful to try to create an identity that could be as strong as that of the Germans or the Russians while also playing off the ways that they were completely different from those groups.  For the British, there was a greater danger in identification with Russians due to the socialist elements that had been creeping into thought and discourse since World War I.  The way the British constructed themselves as the opposite of that which was German was easily explained through the need to make the enemy a distinctive and foreign group that stands for destroying what made Britain essentially British.  While it was easy to convince people that Germans were a threat, it was more difficult to avoid instilling a sympathy and growth of appeal in the way that the Russians were going about their social organization.  The emphasis on cooperation among diverse elements made the outwardly homogenous communist construction less palatable, because the taking on of a homogenous identity required a stripping of the old.  This new British unity merely required a greater inclusiveness and a celebration of differences.


Case Studies: The Films

Went the Day Well
Few people would consider Went the Day Well? (1942) a masterpiece of modern cinema.  The characters do not get very well developed, the time sequence of the actions comes across as choppy, and the introduction and conclusion seem oddly sentimental and misplaced compared to the brutality that peppers much of the movie.  Went the Day Well? plays out more as a horror film than an action film, the way misfortunes topple upon one another in a rather domino-type fashion.  But, for all its failings, this film addresses some interesting concepts that, before the documentary style was incorporated, might have been difficult to incorporate.  The only themes in this movie that make it rise above hackneyed melodrama are contained within the personal interactions of the characters, between the evacuee city children and the townspeople, between the traitorous defector and his unsuspecting fellow townspeople, and in the eventual group action of the town itself.

At the beginning, elements of the story get thrown together almost too quickly.  Assured of an eventual happy ending by the narrator who introduces the film, and German deaths, the film opens upon the small country town of Bramley just going about its business in wartime.  We have a sense of foreboding, knowing that people will die and that Germans will invade because we the audience were told this outright.  When soldiers show up to put the town in a state of "general defense", we have a good idea that they are not who they say they are because of their suspicious actions.  Those suspicions are quickly confirmed when the traitor and German sympathizer, or fifth columnist, is revealed to the audience but not the town.  In addition to the fifth columnist we are whirled into a world containing a vicar, the vicar's daughter, a soldier on leave visiting his fiancŽ, a gentlewoman in the only manor just outside of town, a poor poacher, some evacuee children from the city, some women shopkeepers, and a number of men in town who are too old to join military service but not old enough to be ineffective.  With that many people to keep track of, as well as the Germans, the movie suffers from too many choppy vignette-like scenes rather than providing a cohesive story.

The main character of this story could probably be described as the villain, because the actions which the fifth columnist, Oliver, takes make up the main portion of the film.  While we are never given any good reasons for why this man has chosen to betray his country to Germany, it is evident what Oliver is supposed to represent.  The dangers of spies were one of the fears that propagandists most exploited.  Loose talk was discouraged in many movies, such as Next Of Kin (1942), but in Went the Day Well? we get to skip straight to intentioned betrayal as opposed to inadvertent betrayal.  Oliver's existence warns people, through his intimate and trusted position in town, that anyone can be a traitor, even people whom you know well.  His immoral behavior and lack of sincere caring for his fellow townsfolk (he even murders an old friend who seems to be about to escape by knifing him in the back), place him with the unscrupulous Germans. 

Secondarily, to this oddly unassuming villain, comes the association that authority figures are not to be trusted.  This is not something that would be automatically assumed by the audience at the time[42], and in other films such as In Which We Serve there is a completely contradictory message to this.  Precisely because the position Oliver holds is so trusted, he does not come under suspect and the people of Bramley pay for their good faith.  The only other person with any real authority, the vicar, is killed early on in the movie and thus creates a leadership vacuum.  What the audience has left to work with is the heroism of common people, mostly communicated through collective action.  However, one person, the most nosy and least trusting of the people in Bramley, does gain more focus than the rest, even if the lack of real authority figures remains.

The hero of the story, strangely, is one of the evacuee children, George.  With his rough, poor, city accent, bad manners, and cheeky behavior, he is portrayed as harmless but untrustworthy at the beginning.  The incorporation of the element of the evacuee children is perhaps one of the most confusing contemporary concessions, as the evacuation of children from the city to the country was an unpopular and short-lived attempt to remove children from bombing zones.[43]  Most of the evacuated children returned back to their homes after a few months.  In that short time the country gentry were scandalized by the perceived wide cultural differences between this slice of city life they saw through the children, and their own pastoral existence.[44]  The expectations of the children's knowledge of academics was low, and the expectation of their cunning high.  Lack of proper hygiene, lack of proper respect, and the general expense of feeding and housing the children created a negative bias towards these evacuees.  In this context, to make George the brave boy who is the only one to make it out to warn the next town over and get help, despite being shot in the leg, is unusual.  George, as suspicious, more urbane, curious, and brave embodies all of the qualities that do not come together in any other character.  This boy, as a model of behavior, is conspicuous for his lack of socially provided amenities, yet, he gets the job done.  Previous interpretations of the movie have read this as part of a class leveling, for where older value systems and cautious ways of thinking are not effective, ordinary people who have extraordinary qualities despite their given class, like this boy, can bring salvation.[45]  It is George's attitudes and behaviors which allow him to save the town, and class certainly doesn't seem to matter to anyone when it is a life or death situation such as this.  Even a poor boy can be a grand hero.

The only truly overwhelming feeling that a person can take from this movie is the sense of tragedyÑfrom the deaths and betrayalsÑand personal agencyÑfrom the heroics of the villagersÑthat bring people together against a common enemy.  Though the townspeople all have their own concerns and most likely are not in perfect harmony with one another all of the time, when placed in a situation where everyone is in danger each does their part as is expected by the audience.[46]  The shopkeeper woman kills a German and tries to warn the next town before she is shot.  The poacher aids George in his escape before he too is killed.  The vicar stands up to the Germans and dies ringing the church bells in an attempt to warn the home guard out training (an ultimately unsuccessful actionÑthey are all later killed).  The realism in this film seemed almost shocking, as people fought and died beside one another in an attempt to repel the German invaders.  The sense of community, of purpose, and of loss, all made this movie far more personal than it would have been if the scale of loss had been smaller.  War was hell, even for a little village in the middle of nowhere, but unity, bravery, and eventual luck brought victory.

This is a strong bit of white propaganda.  The message is clear that it is better to be true to your country and support your fellow Britons even in the face of death or despair.  If the character types seem to be chosen for uncommon roles, it underscores how everyone has something to contribute to the war effort even if it does not look like it initially.  Social change in this is assumed but not degraded, by taking a negative event such as the evacuation, and then using it to the advantage of the people of the village through George.  The suggestion in this piece is that harmony between the British is easily grasped when fighting against a common enemy rather like Priestly's oft repeated remark that the British were "apt to be an easy, sleepy, good-natured crowd, but once they are roused. . . they'll wade in and never stop."[47]


Millions Like Us
As a piece of grey propaganda, this film leans towards paler shades than darker.  The purpose was not overtly manipulative, but the intentioned move from pure documentary to feature film that it took casts doubt on it being purely benign.  It had an objective, even if it was a constructive objective, to get women to take action and change their lifestyles.  This film was an omnibus feature[48], one that used many different people from the class structure and locations within Britain as the main characters.  This was a tactic used in other films such as Fires Were Started (1943), where firemen from different walks of life combated the destruction of cities.  Millions Like Us (1943) features the life of women in factories doing their part for Britain through labor outside of the home.  The film itself plays out often more like a documentary, which is perfectly understandable since that is what it started out as.[49]  Millions Like Us was created to reassure women that life in the auxiliary service was a safe and desirable course of action.  With no end to the war in immediate sight labor was at a premium and women comprised an easily tapped resource in that direction. 

So far as plot goes, this movie is a little thin.  The bulk of the story focuses on Celia, a girl from a moderately well off working class family, who is the youngest of three sisters and the most soft spoken and shy of them all.  She is portrayed as the typical homemaker type, who cooks and cleans as well as puts up with all sorts of orders from her kindly widowed father and pushy older sisters.  She is weak, gentle, prone to tears and fits of childish temper, and it is obvious from the start she is intended to be the heroine and model for the feminine ideal in this film.  Her almost masculine and boy crazy older sister, the foil to Celia's "perfect" image, is popular but not likeable, and the other sister is only briefly introduced as a working woman and not particularly motherly despite having two children.  Naturally, it is Celia who enters the factory, unwillingly placed there though she wanted to be around army officers in hopes of meeting a man.  In the factory, she manages to make friends, find a husband, and live independentlyÑbut all the while she still retains her passive and ultra-feminine personality.

This film was dedicated to "Millions like you" in the beginning credits, and the emphasis on the masses is keenly felt from the beginning shots of groups of people walking on sidewalks and bathing on beaches to the ending shots of the factory women at lunch singing together at a small concert being preformed for them.  Peppered throughout the film are these shots of many people congregated together, often claustrophobically tight.  Concerts, shots of the factory, dances, or pubs: they all have the feeling of an almost crushing number of people in each space.  No one seems to really mind, and there is even a sense of comfort from the presence of so many people living and enjoying themselves or just being productive doing a physical job.  This repetition of the environmental theme of "millions" of people and the life and energy they create ultimately makes it disturbing when it is absent.  When Celia and her new husband go back to the beach she vacationed at before the war, the obvious lack of people make them uncomfortable. 

The constant reminder of war as evidenced by nearby bombed buildings and the newly mined beach force upon Celia a strained expression that clues us in to her private agony. She is never allowed to express these feelings openly, even by the end when her husband is killed in a mission over Germany.  Celia is meant to represent a generalized everywoman even as her compatriots in the factory with their different lifestyles give a clearer sense that every woman from each walk of life is involved in the war effort.  There is always a sense in the film about these egalitarian scenes of people going about their lives that we can take away a feeling that we are part of it as the audience.  These concentrated shots of people and of individual expressions are powerful imagery and common for the documentary style of the factory worker and the ennobled common person.

Millions Like Us as a work of fiction cannot be separated from Millions Like Us the documentary.  Once the audience is introduced to the factory, the factory becomes the world, socially and often physically, in which all the important actions take place.  The many shots of people working, with no dialogue, are straight out of the documentary that the film had been intended to be made as.  The shots of many groups of people, made without giving them a voice was also typical of this style.  None of this factory work seemed particularly glamorous, even if it was probably far cleaner looking than the actual work often was, but the audience is given a chance to bring their eye into a world more real than the one that is acted out through Celia's understanding of her surroundings.  She is our narrator, along with the other women, translating thoughts about their doubts about the factory and their feelings about the war as if they represented in their small group all the thoughts of all the women of Britain.  The overhead shots of factory work then function as reminders of the real conditions that woman could enter if they so chose, blurring the lines between an enjoyable tale and a propaganda piece to give it aspects of both.

Beyond the supposed unity and the appeal to women to take up factory work for the good of the country is the underlying tension of how proper gender and class lines are not functioning how they used to, but that they can return to the familiar ground of "flowered and frilly skirts."[50]  Celia is the most "womanly" of the women, even if her attempts to set up her own household and lead a stereotypical life as a housewife are frustrated by her husband's death.[51]  She is forced to move on and continue with her job, her plans for what would typically be defined as a normal life made impossible without a husband.  The only other involvement of note that the audience is treated with is the relationship between the girl with upper class airs and obviously enough money to sustain that attitude, and the foreman of the factory.  Their involvement is strained, almost improbable, but it happens subtly and by the end they are forced to address their concerns to one another.  The foreman and the girl are blunt in talking about how they have "precious little in common" and what will happen to them after the war ends.  Like the working women in factories and in other branches of service, their part in this war is a product of the circumstances of their times and might not necessarily hold when the status quo reasserts itself.[52]  That there is a breach in what is commonly thought to be proper by having women work and even the relationship across classes is taken as a given, as is the eventual reassertion of the status quo.  But their pessimistic ambiguity is not entirely without the possibility of change.  They do not take their probable separation as a given, and within this lies the seeds of a real change in attitude about what the status quo itself might mean. 

Millions Like Us emphasizes unity even more clearly than Went the Day Well? because of the use of the omnibus technique, the attention to personal relationships, and the frequent visual cues to "millions" of people.  If the attempt to stamp approval on social change by appealing to women to enter factories seems like a leap away from the status quo, it is dampened by the obvious implication that gender roles should stay static.  Celia is not a new construction of what makes up a "real" woman, and her bland conformity make the social change seem less radical than it could be when she remains unchanged by her work in the factory other than being a stronger person in general.  The acceptable change in the role of worker is not made less important by this gender qualifier, but it does add a repressive note for the future.


The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
, along with In Which We Serve, is one of the most famous propaganda pieces of the war.  Part of the reason for this is its infamy for being nearly banned by the government, and its subsequent popularity because of this.  This film was well written, produced, directed and acted in addition to being well attended.  The title character was actually a well known cartoon character which satirically represented the old guard way of regarding war and foreign policy that was no longer appropriate for modern warfare.[53]  The main character, Clive Candy, represents Colonel Blimp in all of his antiquated ridiculousness, but not without compassion for how he got there.  Other than Candy, the characters seem startlingly realistic and complex.  Of the wartime films under discussion in thus study, this holds the most clear divisions and understanding of the power of stereotypes and of realism in a compelling cinematic blend.  Colonel Blimp's characters are caricatures, but the also feel like real people.

In a response to the British government's criticisms, Powell and Pressburger the film's artistic geniuses said:

"What are the chief qualities of Clive Candy?  They are the qualities of the average Englishman: an anxiety to believe the best of other people: Fairness in fighting, based upon games: Fairness after the fight is over: a natural naivete engendered by class, insularity and the permeability of the English language.

We think these are splendid virtues: so splendid that, in order to preserve them, it is worthwhile shelving them until we have won the war."[54] 

As war commentary, this story had a bite that was undeniable, just as its immigrant German Jewish author intended.  The content portrayed a complexity to the idea of modern warfare that made the British government uncomfortable.

Clive Candy starts out the movie as an old man, a career military officer, who doesn't understand why his way of fighting wars is no longer effective or useful.  In a series of flashbacks we see his entire life through several major segments of narrative.  The audience first encounters Candy as a young man, hot headed and keen on defending the honor of the British officers who fought in the Boer War from the defaming of German ex-POWs.  Caught in a fight of honor that becomes symbolic of the masculine political posturing between Britain and Germany, we are subjected to Candy's sense of war as a game, rules and all.  The way he regards violence is with a congenial smile and a joke.  His laughing but strict adherence to honor and fair conduct may win him the adoration of most of the people who come across him, but they increasingly doom his career as a soldier.  Fair play can only work when both sides adhere to it, but Candy is defined by his sense of fair play and is blind to the way others are not similarly minded.  Through World War I he is allowed to maintain his illusions, but by World War II the audience sees that even his side must admit that fighting fair has become obsolete.  Candy is heartbroken, but finally comes to terms with the cutthroat world he is living in, surrounded by people who long ago came to the same conclusions and who will support him in his decline.

Beyond the focus of Candy's character, the secondary characters offer up a host of shifting opinions and various degrees of "Blimpery".  Women play a strong role in this (or rather, woman, since all the female leads are played throughout by the same person: Deborah Kerr).  Her character shifts through several interesting portrayals, from free minded governess to insular and stereotypical upper-middle class British housewife, and finally the modern and brusque military girl who drives Candy's car.  Each character is given the opportunity to express feelings about the war, all of which are negative. But only some of those feelings can be critical depending on how closely she is tied in to typical notions of the feminine in British society.  The further away the female characters get, the more they are allowed to express criticisms of how society works.  By the time the audience makes it to the last character, we see a young woman trying to understand the new social order.  She is uneasy with the lack of social structures when she is in Candy's presence as a superior officer and a member of a superior class.  However, Candy himself breaks down the barrier of class and society by the end, when he relies more on personal interaction as the only important social quality left for him to cherish.

The other secondary character, the German officer who Candy fights at the beginning of the film, Theo Kretchmar-Schuldorff, is important to seeing what is effectively both an outsider's perspective through an insider's eyes.  Written by a foreigner, this screenplay seems to hold affection and contempt simultaneously for what is inherently "British" about Clive Candy.  Just as Theo cannot come to terms with how na•ve Candy seems, or cope with the terrors of war and the rise of the Nazi regime, the audience too is put in the odd place of "foreigner".  Theo is the one who seems the most intelligent, the most perceptive and sensitive.  By making the most sympathetic character a foreign one, Colonel Blimp[55]  Yet, maybe it would take an outsider pointing to the troubles to motivate the audience to action.  Perhaps only an immigrant who had lived in Britain could invite a perspective change as radical as this, but in some senses this is exactly the type of thinking that other propaganda films were encouraging: to be able to understand what makes a person inherently British, and at the same time convince them of the unifying factors they all shared. challenges the audience to identify themselves outside of what it is to be British.  The ideals that the movie suggest: the new way of fighting, the need to abandon an antiquated ruling class, were things that would resonate with the audience because they are British and have shared common experiences and thoughts as a nation.

The point of the movie is strikingly clear: there are no more "fair" or "just" wars, and perhaps there never were any in the first place.  The idea that the British people are still trying to use war as some sort of game of moral superiority is ludicrous.[56]  Waiting for the morality of the other person to falter out of shame is optimistic and simplistic at a time when the world obviously cannot be.  The way of a gentleman is not the way of the new youth of Britain, and they are appreciative but not necessarily respectful of these values that Candy continues to embody.  From their perspective, it is Candy who must change to conform to the times and not the young officers who must change to meet his high expectations of justice and fair conduct.  The important dedication can come first or last in consideration of these ideas when this film was offered "to the New Army of Britain, to the new spirit in warfare, to the new toughness in battle, and to men and women who know what they are fighting for and are fighting this war to win it" but falls at the beginning of the film by chance.  The way Candy is increasingly dismissed by a changing army is heartbreaking but understandable.  A modern army needs a commander who can be ruthless sometimes, who can get results, and war is not a gentleman's sport when a country is fighting to survive.  The wise person, though not necessarily the honest and upright one, fights to win.

This is intended to be grey propaganda, and not necessarily grey in the government's favor which created difficulties for it before it was released.  The open criticism of the current state of thought as inappropriate was a wakeup call that might not have been welcome, but it was tactful in that it presented the issue as a pragmatic one.  Everyone in Britain needed to be of one mind on the concept of winning the war, and the present unity of thought by the leadership was unacceptable.  Social systems were changing even without the permission of those who felt they were in charge.  If Orwell observed that "genuinely popular culture [in] England is something that goes on beneath the surface, unofficially and more or less frowned on by the authorities,"[57] then perhaps by bringing the views of the people to the minds of their leaders then something could be done.  That this was bringing a sort of revolution to the status quo even if not displacing it didn't matter so long as the war could be won.  The message: whatever it takes.


Noel Coward's Movie
The film In Which We Serve (1942) is often held up as a particularly good example of not only the sort of semi-documentary feature film that typified the new movement but as being particularly praised in its time for representing a favorable impression of English personality traits.  The fact that it was perhaps the most popular film of the war[58] suggests its possible wide influence.  The discussion of this film can almost not take place without a brief look at Noel Coward, the man who wrote, produced, and starred in it; if that weren't enough, he also wrote the musical score.[59]  Coward was friends with Louis Mountbatten, on whose career he modeled the film's plot; but this was not the only powerful friend that Coward could boast of.  Having made his own way in the world and achieved resounding success, Coward had a lot invested in the status quo.  Therefore it is not terribly surprising that he also wished it to remain just the way it was.  He was a "fervent patriot, a man with a deep love of England, the Empire, the royal family, some of whom he was to count as personal friends."[60]  So when he conceived of making a film, he celebrated in it both the British character as a whole but more particularly the strengths of its different classes.  Coward saw the possibility of the breakdown of the class system as the first step towards a "dismal mediocrity."[61]  Noel Coward, with his talent and drive for establishing a greater sense of patriotism for Britain as it was rather than what it might have been, may have been a great spokesman for conservative British values, but the way the film actually played out gave a somewhat muddled impression of paternalism.

What makes this film specifically interesting as a piece of effective propaganda is the resounding success that it met internally to Britain but also abroad as well.  In America, the film did so well and was acclaimed so highly that it won an Academy Award.  People internationally were praised it for reflecting something essentially British in cultural tone.  While people outside of Britain were claiming it to be great, the critics inside of Britain were extolling it for the same quality.[62]  The presence of too much Noel Coward and the overtly propagandistic tones were the only pieces of criticism that seemed to surface.  Rather like The Lion Has Wings, British people felt it was a good story, told in an interesting and sympathetic manner.  But in this case they wanted to believe what the film was telling them which was that the British people on a whole were "gentle, private, patriotic, old-fashioned, law-abiding, anti-intellectual, deeply moral and profoundly class-ridden."[63]  The complexity of this picture goes beyond a simple plea to the nation's character because if all that In Which We Serve offered was what Noel Coward intended then it would make it a much less interesting study in propaganda.  The very medium it was put in and the way it was filmed sometimes seem to put it at odds with what the characters are saying.  While the obvious propagandistic nature of the film did little to lessen its emotional impact, the ending is all ambiguity edging on hopefulness that left people with the opportunity to feel more national pride but little definitive feelings about where that nation would be at the end of the war.


In Which We Serve
The audience was greeted boldly with the caption "This film is dedicated to the Royal Navy, Ôwhereupon under the good providence of God the wealth, safety, and strength of the kingdom chiefly depend'."[64]  Unsubtly, perhaps, the film immediately goes on to focus on the HMS Torrin which functions as both the physical vessel and the metaphorical symbol of the nation from here on out.  The dedication followed by the ship set the tone and beat the metaphor in.  Coward plays the Captain of the ship and the film itself plays out a non-linear sequence of events where the emphasis lies not on any real specific military action but on the lives of crew members and how they intertwine and relate to a lesser extent.  The case Coward was making for how British people should live has to do with strong lessons by example, but while behaviors could be suggested they were offered forth with room for interpretation.

When war hits, one of the first bastions of the propagandist is emphasis on the family.  This serves several purposes, including the cold hearted pursuit of a larger population to perpetuate the next generation of soldiers to carry out a mass war.  But that line, even if it's true, would not sell.  The far more common option is to play off the value of the family as the core of society, and Noel Coward does this expertly by making a movie about war into a movie about the family.  Family groups dominate the core of this film from the individual family units that the different crew members recall while stranded on a life raft to the ship's social structure and right on into how the classes themselves relate to one another.  Noel Coward's character Captain Kinross is the absolute epitome of the father figure.[65]  There is nothing he can't handle and everyone who serves under him trusts him completely, just as his own wife and children do.  It is the only way he can relate to the world, in some ways, for as he comes across crew members in everyday life outside of the ship he treats them with the same vague condescension and paternal good humor as he regards his biological children at home.  The intention is clear that Coward feels the social divisions are being handled responsibly through a gendered and familial brand of interaction.  The role of a father is given certain automatic respectability through right of birth (by being male and having fulfilled his masculinity by setting up a legacy), and, similarly, so should the class divisions by association.  This line of propaganda is persuasive only because it plays off the family ideal.  It is difficult to take offense at the concept of family and stability, particularly during a war which brings with it a certain level of chaos and hardship. 

While the patriarchal line of thought it strong, there was another way to see how interactions played out.  The more dire the circumstances, the more it seemed as if everyone on the ship or at home was doing what they needed to do and pulling their own very crucial weight.  The worst situation, such as in battle or when the men were stranded on a raft together just trying to stay alive it was not a matter of who was in charge it was simply a matter of seeing the next day.  The documentary style that gave such dignity and purpose to the common worker and which Noel Coward used here to show the lives and duties of many different men on the ship arguably empowered the men past the position of children to the Captain's father and made them all look like adults doing a job.  Even if Coward intended to show that each class had its own specialty and that they should be content with doing it well because their efforts were important, the presentation in the documentary style implies a greater sense of democracy and egalitarianism than he most likely had in mind.

Beyond the expectation of familial duty, there was the expectation of individualized and personal duty that Coward wished each citizen to respect.  This played up to the stereotypes of British people that the international community as well as the people of Britain itself found so agreeable.  The most demonized person in the film, the man who deserted his post, was painted as a pitiable figure who had no respect for himself or anyone around him.  In the end he was consumed by his own shame and the need to redeem himself.  He was given this chance at redemption as he helped pull stranded soldiers to the life raft when the Torrin sank.  The contrast he made to the other people is no more remarkable than that he was the only one out of hundreds who did what he was not supposed to.  The grand consensus was that everyone was there to do a job and even death in battle was less to be feared than their own human weakness.  The women, allowed more room to be emotional because of their sex by this value system[66], expressed a similar sense of self sacrifice.  Captain Kinross' wife said most eloquently at a Christmas dinner about how her greatest rival for her husband was the Torrin and that she loved her rival as much as her husband did.  While blatantly nationalist, this saccharine speech was echoed by the other classes of families covered in the movie.  Perhaps more notably, these brief speeches are some of the only emotions overtly pictured in the film.  For the most part everyone practiced a sort of decorum, even under fire, that was almost disturbing in its placidness even if admirable for its bravery.  Everyone was noble, decent, selfless, duty bound, and responsible.  There was little to find fault with and it's perfectly understandable that a country would want such a rosy image of its people.  Unfortunately, that sort of vision is as unrealistic as it is hopefulÑnot unlike many utopian visions.

Coward, in In Which We Serve, saw a vision of the British people regardless of station in life as an essentially good and noble populace, and this happened to fall in line with exactly the sort of expectations that the more socialist minded individuals held.[67]  It remains an almost eerie vision to watch the same sort of people who, for all intents and purposes, only seemed to live in different houses and speak with slightly different accents.  With everyone being tolerant and respectful to one another, it seems almost as if there could be no formal differences at all.[68]  Part of the purpose of these divisions appears to be to maintain a certain level of quality of behavior and life, and that those with higher stations in life are almost obliged to be given certain privileges. However, in wartime there are straightened circumstances and therefore everyone is limited to a greater or lesser extent.  No one in the movie seemed to be wanting for food or shelter and were in all respects still engaging in recreational activities, such as taking vacations (which the Captain did).  So far as the audience could see the quality of life was no worse depending on the class of the person.  That means the only distinction would be the behaviors, but those were also sterling for just about every person.  The assumption was that everyone would bear what they had to for the greater good of winning the war because they were "all in the same boat and that every man and woman in that boat is pulling his or her weight." [69]  Coward's main complaint about how the leveling of classes would create a mediocre society seems to be inconsistent with his own portrayal of the British character.  If he is right about how leveling society makes it an undesirable place to exist in, then his film is not automatically invalidated, but it is more difficult to take it or the character types in it as the realistic portrayals that they were touted to be.

In Which We Serve is a great film, and a complex piece of grey propaganda.  While it attempts to be reactionary to the unsatisfactory rate of change within British society at this time, it complicates its message by using imagery and characters that seem to get along in this new Britain easily and happily.  This film, in regards to Coward's purposes, is rather like the sinking of the Torrin: a defeat outwardly but secretly a moral victory.  As a promoter of unity and patriotism, this movie did its job.  As for its mixed message, the audience could see what they wanted to in the film and in effect reinforce already held beliefs.[70]  Helpfully to this flexibility of interpretation, Coward does not look to the future other than that the British people would go on in the physical sense.  The obvious lack of address to any issues that would occur in the future was one of the major flaws for which this film was critiqued, but which assured it a solid audience be they conservative, liberal, revolutionary, or anywhere within the spectrum. 


Propaganda film in Britain during World War II went hand in hand with feature films because of both necessity and a Ministry of Information mandate.  Born out of the combination of the very situation of war and elements of the thriving documentary film movement, feature films in Britain reached a larger number of people more effectively than native film had seemed capable of previously.  Not every film suddenly became good or important, but imbedded within even shallow films were assumptions about society and how it should function.  These messages became the bulk of the propaganda that the feature films offered to the public.  Outwardly disparate films such as Millions Like Us and Went the Day Well? actually had more in common with one another than perhaps the audience or even the filmmakers themselves thought.  While they were all intended to help morale, and bring the British people together to win the war with a greater collective patriotism, the films still contain layers of complexity beyond that simple plea.  The battle whether the lifestyle changes that this message was promoting would stay, if the status quo would forever alter, was given different takes depending on each movie.

Encouraged by the government and entertainment, "The People's War" developed the flavor of consensus and cooperation when at its heart the war and the presence of splits of class, gender, and ethnicity plagued the nation.  This is unsurprising that some sort of consistency was preferable to chaos and uncertainty when war brought enough of that to the nation, but the identity of the British people should not have been so quickly pigeonholed as various gradations of middle class English people.  Emotional unity through crisis[71] offered up a blindness to the distinctions that could have caused havoc to utopian hopes.  In this utopia, there was no room for the selfishness that characterized the upper classes or the easy dismissal of the worker who had been given a voice through the documentary movement.  The potentially false camaraderie would fall away when the conservative surge followed the war after the initial Labour landslide[72], but the fact that it happened at all is an interesting side note that could point to the possibility of the fruition of the change of attitude that could allow a film like In Which We Serve to be just as subversive as it was traditionally nationalistic and static, or for a film such as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp to find an audience at all. 



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Harrisson, Tom. "Films and the Home Front -- the evaluation of their effectiveness by ÔMass-Observation'." In Propaganda, Politics and Film, 1918-45, ed. Nicholas Pronay, and D. W. Spring, 234-245. London: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1982.

Hayes, Nick. "An 'English War', Wartime Culture and 'Millions Like Us'." In 'Millions Like Us'?, ed. Nick Hayes, and Jeff Hill, 1-32. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999.

Higson, Andrew. "The Instability of the National." In British Cinema, Past and Present, ed. Justine Ashby, and Andrew Higson, 35-47. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Higson, Andrew. Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

Jowett, Garth S., and Victoria O'Donnell. Propaganda and Persuasion. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992.

Kennedy, A.L. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. London: British Film Institute, 1997.

Low, Rachael. The History of the British Film 1929-1939: Film Making in 1930s Britain. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985.

Luhmann, Niklas. The Reality of the Mass Media. Trans. Kathleen Cross. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Murphy, Robert. British Cinema and the Second World War. London: Continuum, 2000.

Napper, Lawrence. "British Cinema and the Middlebrow." In British Cinema, Past and Present, ed. Justine Ashby, and Andrew Higson, 110-123. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Orwell, George. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: As I Please 1943-1945. ed. Sonia Orwell, and Ian Angus. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc, 1968.

Orwell, George. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: My Country Right or Left 1940-1943. ed. Sonia Orwell, and Ian Angus. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc, 1968.

Priestly, J.B. Britain Speaks. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940.

Powell, Michael, Emeric Pressburger. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, 1943.

Pronay, Nicholas. "The political censorship of films in Britain between the wars." In Propaganda, Politics and Film, 1918-45, ed. Nicholas Pronay, and D. W. Spring, 98-125. London: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1982.

Richards, Jeffrey, and Dorothy Sheridan, eds. Mass-Observation at the Movies. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987.

Richards, Jeffrey. "Rethinking British Cinema." In British Cinema, Past and Present, ed. Justine Ashby, and Andrew Higson, 21-34. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Rose, Sonya O. Which People's War?: National Identity and Citizenship in Britain 1939-1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Stead, Peter. "The people and the pictures.  The British working class and film in the 1930s." In Propaganda, Politics and Film, 1918-45, ed. Nicholas Pronay, and D. W. Spring, 77-97. London: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1982.

Summerfield, Penny. "The 'levelling of class'." In War and Social Change: British Society in the Second World War, ed. Harold L. Smith, 179-207. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986.

Taylor, Philip M. British Propaganda in the 20th Century: Selling Democracy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

[1] George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: As I Please 1943-1945, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc, 1968), 127.

[2] Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, Propaganda and Persuasion, 2nd ed. (Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1992), 8.

[3] Jowett, 153; Tom Harrisson, "Films and the Home Front -- the evaluation of their effectiveness by 'Mass-Observation'," in Propaganda, Politics and Film, 1918-45, ed. Nicholas Pronay and D. W. Spring (London: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1982), 244.

[4] Niklas Luhmann, The Reality of the Mass Media, trans. Kathleen Cross (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 62; Jowett, 270.

[5] Luhmann, 82.

[6] Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 11, citing Edward Buscombe, "Film History and the Idea of a National Cinema", Australian Journal of Screen Theory, 1981, 9-10.

[7] Peter Stead, "The people and the pictures:  The British working class and film in the 1930s," in Propaganda, Politics and Film, 1918-45, ed. Nicholas Pronay and D. W. Spring (London: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1982), 86.

[8] Ernest Betts, The Film Business: A History of British Cinema 1896-1972, (London: George Allen & Unwin LTD, 1973), 82.

[9] Rachael Low, The History of the British Film 1929-1939: Film Making in 1930s Britain, (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), 33.

[10] Low, 36.

[11] Stead, 78; Chapman in 'Millions Like Us?', 41.

[12] Stead, 77.

[13] Lawrence Napper, "British Cinema and the Middlebrow," in British Cinema, Past and Present, ed. Justine Ashby and Andrew Higson (New York: Routledge, 2000), 111.

[14] George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: My Country Right or Left 1940-1943, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc, 1968), 76.

[15] Nicholas Pronay, "The political censorship of films in Britain between the wars," in Propaganda, Politics and Film, 1918-45, ed. Nicholas Pronay and D. W. Spring (London: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1982), 85.

[16] Pronay, 122.

[17] Betts, 173.

[18] J. B. Priestly, Britain Speaks, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940), 52.

[19] Nick Hayes, "An 'English War', Wartime Culture and 'Millions Like Us'," in 'Millions Like Us'?, ed. Nick Hayes and Jeff Hill (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 5.

[20] Higson in Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain, 198.

[21] Chapman in British Cinema, Past and Present, 198.

[22] Orwell in My Country Right or Left, 64.

[23] James Chapman, The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945 (London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1998), 42.

[24] Harrisson, 241.

[25] Chapman in The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945, 55, 58.

[26] Harrison, 244.

[27] Chapman in The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945, 51.

[28] Jeffrey Richards, "Rethinking British Cinema," In British Cinema, Past and Present, ed. Justine Ashby and Andrew Higson (New York: Routledge, 2000), 24.

[29] Sonya O. Rose, Which People's War?: National Identity and Citizenship in Britain 1939-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3.

[30] John Baxendale, "'You and I -- All of Us Ordinary People': Renegotiating 'Britishness' in Wartime," in 'Millions Like Us'?, ed. Nick Hayes and Jeff Hill (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 310, 305.

[31] Orwell in My Country Right or Left,, 64.

[32] Orwell in My Country Right or Left,, 84.

[33] Raymond Durgnat, A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 20.

[34] Rose,  31.

[35] Orwell in My Country Right or Left, 85.

[36] Priestly, 86.

[37] D.W. Ellwood, "'Showing the world what it owed to Britain': foreign policy and 'cultural propaganda', 1935-45," in Propaganda, Politics and Film, 1918-45, ed. Nicholas Pronay and D. W. Spring (London: The Macmillan Press LTD, 1982), 59.

[38] Orwell in My Country Right or Left,, 336.

[39] Hayes, 21.

[40] Chapman in The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945, 195.

[41] Rose, 48.

[42] Durgnat, 15.

[43] Rose, 60.

[44] Rose, 58.

[45] Aldagate and Richards, Britain Can take, 130.

[46] Orwell in My Country Right or Left, 67; Priestly, 131.

[47] Priestly, 11.

[48] Durgnat, 201.

[49] James Chapman, "British Cinema and 'The People's War'," In 'Millions Like Us'?, ed. Nick Hayes,  and Jeff Hill,  (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 56.

[50] Priestly, 20.

[51] Rose, 123.

[52] Rose, 120.

[53] Chapman in The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945, 192.

[54] A.L. Kennedy, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, (London: British Film Institute, 1997), 26.

[55] Orwell in My Country Right or Left, 66, 70.

[56] Priestly, 64.

[57] Orwell in My Country Right or Left, 59.

[58] Higson in Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain, 215.

[59] Betts, 196.

[60] Anthony Aldgate and Jeffery Richards, Britain Can Take It: The British Cinema in the Second World War, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994), 191-2.

[61] Aldgate and Richards, 192, citing Noel Coward.

[62] Jowett, 96.

[63] Aldgate and Richards, 209.

[64] Chapman in The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945, 184.

[65] Chapman in The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939-1945, 185.

[66] Rose, 123.

[67] Rose, 33.

[68] Penny Summerfield, "The 'levelling of class'," in War and Social Change: British Society in the Second World War, ed. Harold L. Smith (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), 197

[69] Priestly, 131.

[70] James Chapman, "Cinema, Propaganda and National Identity: British Film and the Second World War." in British Cinema, Past and Present, ed. Justine Ashby and Andrew Higson (New York: Routledge, 2000), 136.

[71] Rose, 4.

[72] Taylor, 173.