A Mirror of Britain?


AMX 315/316

Final Essay

The decline of Britain from 1945 to the present had a great affect on the way the country was portrayed through films and cinema during that time period. Post-war Britain and the political aspects of the country directly affected how and what the film industry produced. Through each period of time up until the present, a certain type of film emerged to accompany the present attitude in Great Britain.

Cinema in the UK was disrupted by World War Two and was brought into government control. A shift was made in the industry towards propaganda to encourage movie-goers to support the war and build up their sense of patriotism for Great Britain. It was a great attempt at increasing attendance, boosting moral of citizens and troops alike, in addition to increasing their national identity. While this type of film was very successful domestically, it was an unsuccessful export due to the regional focus.

Following the war, Britain went into a deep depression. May 8th, 1945 was declared Victory Europe (VE) Day, though there was not much left to celebrate. “Twenty-five percent of the wealth, supplies, housing and trading market was lost.”[1] The war left the whole of the UK quite broke. This depression brought about two themes in the cinema. The first was depictions of war. These films told of the fighting and the deaths and the lack of food faced by many of the soldiers fighting in the war. The film may not be British, but ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ was a very depressing depiction based on the realities of fighting in the war. Soldiers lost everyone they knew while fighting and had to live on very little food. This film was a very true to life, no holds barred type of story. The second theme brought about by post-war depression was a depiction of patriotism. These films told of how the people will come together and rebuild the country. They describe how Great Britain will become a truly united kingdom. There was a lot of work to do and the people needed motivation.

Through the development of these films came the racy melodramas, in addition to the theatrical comedy. The Ealing Studio was the first actual film studio in the UK, producing whimsically fun comedies with a dark and ironic feel. These films starred characters fighting the system and government interference. An example of this film would be Passport to Pimlico. This film brought Alec Guiness to the screen, who then became an international film star. Passport to Pimlico shows the ordinary moments of life after the war. Prior to the development of film stars on screen, there were literary adaptations made into films. Novels such as those that were written by Charles Dickins, were made into films which were created of a higher cultural status. For actors, it was a lesson for acting in film and was, in essence, a transition stage for the industry. There were no stars on screen and no constant production like we see today. It was difficult to hold a career in film and starring in films in the UK became a transitory period which led to an exodus of British actors to the United States.

In the 1950s, exports in the UK had become virtually non-existent and the devaluation of the pound had severely affected the economy. Cinema had declined into a cliché and risked becoming a Hollywood colony. To combat this, a tax was levied to prevent American films from washing out the UK industry. A 75% import tax was placed on these films in addition to a quota scheme, allowing only a certain number of American films to be imported per year. This was an unsuccessful attempt for several reasons. The American industry found loopholes by producing their films in the UK, television began mimicking film, and the population began to move from city to suburbs, which did not have cinemas. With this time period came increased bearacracy, race riots, the end of repression, flourishment of the youth culture and revolution of the classes. Around this time came a critical new development called the ‘angry young men.’ These men would rant against Britain and