Jeffrey Richards and Anthony Aldgate / “4. Why We Fight: A Canterbury Tale” / British Cinema and Society / 1983

A Canturbury Tale, 1944, produced, written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

At WW2 outbreak, all cinemas in Britain were closed. Reopened for morale boost. Feature films seen as not only escapism/entertainment, but information and instruction. Overseen by British Board of Film Censors and Ministry of Information. Lord Macmillian, 1st wartime Minister of Information, 1940, memorandum suggesting 3 things for propagandist feature films: 1) What Britain was fighting for 2) How Britain was fighting 3) Need for sacrifice. Industry creativity surged, projected Britain to extent not seen in 1940s. Initially, cinema reflected class-bound 1930s tradition. See Carol Reed, Night Train to Munich 1940, Rex Harrison upper-class hero. Most romantic, out-of-touch war movie was Ealing’s Ships With Wings 1941. Hostile press led Michael Balcon, head of Ealing, to decide to produce realistic war stories. Turned to only group in Britain familiar with real life: the documentarists.

HOW BRITAIN FIGHTS. Rise of movies with focus on comradeship, duty, self sacrifice, cooperation. San Demetrio-London 1943. The Bells Go Down 1943. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp 1943. In Which We Serve 1942. The Way Ahead 1944 [scripted Peter Ustinov and Eric Ambler, dir. Carol Reed]. The Way to the Stars 1945. Women contribution to war effort movies: The Gentle Sex 1943, Millions Like Us 1943.

WHY BRITAIN FIGHTS. 49th Parallel 1941. What were we fighting for? England and Englishness. Books: The English People, The Character of England, Forever England. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were romantic, adventurous, controversial, innovative. Pop entertainment and high art. The Spy in Black 1939. A Canterbury Tale 1944. Rejoices in England’s past, country crafts, rural beauty, countryside, Cathedral.

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