In all walks of life, there are those that are unappreciated in their time. From the masterpieces of Vincent Van Gough, to the Nicky Butt’s first touch, some things just aren’t giving the respect they deserve until years later. This is often the case when it comes to films, and one such underrated classic is Powell & Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
As the title suggests, the two and a half hour epic may just be one of the biggest, best, and most British films in history. The film follows the life of Clive Candy (played by a never-better Roger Livesey), from a strapping young lieutenant in the Boer War, through World War 1, all the way to an elderly Major of the Home Guard in World War II. Set against the backdrop of three wars, you could be forgiven for thinking of this as a war film… but you’d be wrong. The Life and Death Of Colonel Blimp is not so much about war as it is friendship.
Early in the film, Candy befriends a German soldier in Berlin (played by a mesmerizing Anton Walbrook). As you can imagine an English soldier and a German soldier becoming best friends just before World War I creates, shall we say, complications. However, their friendship survives and flourishes in the face of adversity, culminating in one of the truly emotional climaxes in cinema.
Like all great films, there isn’t one thing that makes it fantastic. ‘Blimp’ is a tapestry, made up of hundreds of little, wonderful things that only reveal themselves after numerous viewings. There’s a love triangle, a duel, some side-splitting comedy, thought-provoking monologues and an overwhelming sense of Britishness.
However, as I said before, this film did not receive critical acclaim upon its initial release. Quite the opposite actually. If you think an English/German friendship would be difficult for the characters, you can imagine what certain political figures would think of the idea when the film came out in 1943, the height of World War II. In fact, the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, tried his hardest to ensure the film never saw the light of day. Fortunately for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (and the rest of the free world), Churchill put more effort into fighting Nazi’s than this film.
It would be some time after that it was given the recognition it deserved, and take its place among the greats. I really can’t recommend this film enough to you; it is nothing short of a master class in cinema. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: the best film you’ve never heard of.