Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview This work brings together leading international scholars to investigate the rich diversity of Britain's film production, and explore the different cultural traditions which have shaped Britain's national identity on screen. Average Review. Write a Review. Related Searches.
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The comprehensive reference section provides researchers with an authoritative source of data Charlotte Smith in British Romanticism. Charlotte Smith's early sonnets established the genre as a Romantic form; her novels advanced sensibility 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.
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.
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. The attempt to approach the individuality of the individuals' own consciousness will then be made by way of programme diversification.
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 s 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. British Cinema in the s 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. 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?
One of the great controversies surrounding the early development of the film industry in Britain involved a bill passed in to prevent the complete domination of American films in the British market, the Cinematograph or Films Act. 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. The result of the Cinematograph Act was that as the quotas rose but British studios found that they could not meet the forced demand.
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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.
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. This could have seemed alarming indeed if films were as damaging as the intellectuals feared since "by some 20 million tickets were being sold every 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 s 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.
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," 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" 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. 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.
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 , Priestly commented about how intellectuals wrote in "comparative security" 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. 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. 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. 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.
Propaganda and the Citizen in British Feature Films of World War II
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. 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.
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. This attitude was evident both on the part of the public and in official circles.
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 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 people had become extremely conscious of this thing called propaganda. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. There was no attempt to make everyone the same or even to flatten out differences, difference could be freely admitted.
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. 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 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. 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. 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. The feeling among the people was that there would be less room for selfish consideration 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. 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. 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.
Rethinking British cinema. - Research Portal | Lancaster University
This new British unity merely required a greater inclusiveness and a celebration of differences. 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? 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. 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. 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, 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. 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.
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.
Even a poor boy can be a grand hero. 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. The poacher aids George in his escape before he too is 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.
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, 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 , where firemen from different walks of life combated the destruction of cities.
Millions Like Us 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. 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. 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. 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.