The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Crisp restoration of the 1940s satire by Powell and Pressburger
Spry and delightful nearly 70 years on, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is one of many masterpieces from filmmaking virtuosos Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as The Archers. Their fifth collaboration, from 1943, is an effervescent satire whose title was taken from a comic strip by David Low. It judges friendship the equal of romance, muses on four decades of Anglo-German relations and considers all that it means to be British. That it does so with the lightest of touches is intrinsic to its appeal.
We’re first introduced to Clive Candy (a superb Roger Livesey) in 1942 as a portly veteran leading a Home Guard exercise against the regular troops. An inelegant tussle with an impudent lieutenant takes us back 40 years to when Candy himself was a young hothead, on leave from the Boer War. The film co-stars the luminous Deborah Kerr as the three key women in his life (acknowledging the recurrence Candy comments, 'You might say that she was my ideal – if you were some sort of sickening, long-haired poet'). Completing its trio of leads is the formidable Anton Walbrook as the German officer whose friendship with Candy survives three wars and a duel.
With its wit and wisdom, visual flamboyance and Britishness, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is rich with that unmistakable Powell and Pressburger blend. It attracted criticism on its war-time release (not least from Churchill himself) for its satirical tone and sympathetic portrayal of a German soldier, and balances such considered controversies with idiosyncratic innovation – for example the passage of time is marked by Candy’s accumulation of wild animal heads. Blimp is a film that gives us musical mischief, marvellous moustaches, poignancy and peculiarity in droves. This crisp digital restoration allows us to enjoy its Technicolor triumph afresh.