Projecting Britain at War

The National Character in British World War II Films

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About the Book

This detailed chronological analysis of British World War II movies from 1939 until the present explores how films projected recognizable stereotypes of British national character and how the times in which a film was made shaped its perspectives. Several chapters look at films made during and immediately after the war. In depictions of the Home Front, characters display resolve as well as emotional restraint and present an image of an undivided society cooperating to fight evil. By contrast, duty and service are the paramount virtues of combat films while spy melodramas exemplify the British love of improvisation.
Fifties war films are examined against the backdrop of alarm and uncertainty caused by the Cold War. Such films reflect traditional national character stereotypes, though the stiff upper lip begins to be questioned by the end of the decade. The book then traces the radical effect of the 1960s revolution, revealing how the fondness for skeptical antiwar movies went hand in hand with the questioning of Britain’s place in the world. The book ends by looking at recent war films and asks whether these reflect the cult of narcissism so prevalent in modern Britain.

About the Author(s)

Journalist Jeremy Havardi’s articles have appeared in The Guardian, The Commentator, The Jewish News, Times of Israel and many other publications. He lives in London, England.

Bibliographic Details

Jeremy Havardi
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: 18 photos, filmography, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7483-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0439-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Preface 1

Introduction 3

1. Our Obsession with 1940 11

2. The Development of the English National Character 23

3. Projecting Britain in the Early Documentaries 40

4. The Home Front: Muddling Through with a Stiff Upper Lip 49

5. Service Films: The Triumph of Duty 67

6. Cloak and Dagger: The Victory of the Amateur 89

7. Heroic Johnny Foreigner: Resistance and the Triumph of the Underdog 98

8. History and Heritage as Propaganda 108

9. The Postwar Interlude: War Films 1945–1950 120

10. Obsessive Nostalgia: The British War Films of the 1950s 128

11. The Critique of Deference in the Aftermath of Suez 158

12. How We Lost the War: ­Anti-Heroism and the New Wave 167

13. The Dominance of Narcissism: British War Films from the 1980s and Beyond 187

Conclusion 201

Chronological List of Films Covered 205

Chapter Notes 209

Bibliography 216

Index 219

Book Reviews & Awards

“Havardi’s analysis of the films is excellent, and he turns up some surprising gems…valuable”—The NYMAS Review.