Book Review: Projecting Britain at War: The National Character in British World War II Films

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by Jeremy Havardi

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. Pp. viii, 224. Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $40.00 paper. ISBN: 0786474831

Film and the Shaping of Britons and the War

After a short introduction in which he discusses “Our Obsession with 1940,” British journalist Havardi addresses the question of whether such a thing as “national character” exists, coming down firmly on the positive side. He then takes a look at some 150 films, mostly British-made, that “represented, reflected, and shaped” British character and understanding of the war, from the 1937 Fire Over England through The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas of 2008.

The pictures are are grouped more or less thematically and chronologically. Chapters on films made during the war itself cover the Home Front, the services at war, “Cloak and Dagger,” the European resistance, and propaganda, and include such historical costume dramas as Henry V and Lady Hamilton, which were very much about World War II despite their setting, when one thinks of their themes, which have Britain under threat. The treatment of postwar films is chronological, as the decline of Britain and global cultural changes affected film making, leading to a more nuanced view of the war. 

Havardi’s analysis of the films is excellent, and he turns up some surprising gems, while polishing some well-known ones, though he curiously omits a number of interesting films, such as Perfect Strangers and HMS Amethyst. This is a valuable work for those interested in Britain at war or war film.    

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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