Whimsical, charming, eccentric … Ealing Comedies are all of these things.
charming, eccentric … Ealing Comedies are all of these things. But to
see them as nothing more than cosy, Sunday afternoon brain candy is entirely
missing the point. Age may have taken some of the sting out of their barb but,
even 60 years on, Ealing’s clever comedies have something to say. And,
arguably, none are more relevant today than
Passport To Pimlico.
Made in 1949 (the year after the London Olympics) Passport
was written by TEB (Tibby) Clarke,
who was also responsible for other Ealing gems such as The Lavender Hill Mob, Hue And Cry, The Titfield Thunderbolt and Barnacle
Clarke is one of the few Brits to win an Oscar for Best
Original Screenplay (for Lavender Hill Mob) and his approach to script writing
was to take one slightly fantastical, ‘what if’ idea and follow it through to a
logical conclusion. The key to keeping it real was meticulous research. (For
The Lavender Hill Mob he actually asked the Royal Mint how he could go about
robbing them!) His characters, too, were always solidly believable. In fact
when you look at the work of other Ealing Studio stalwarts, such as Will Hay and Norman Wisdom, Tibby’s creations are positively downbeat.
For Passport, his starting point was what if a London
borough was declared foreign territory? One stifling summer, an unexploded bomb
is accidentally detonated, uncovering an ancient treasure trove and documents
which prove that the London Borough of Pimlico is actually part of the ancient
Duchy of Burgundy. Suddenly, in a little corner of England, British rules and
regulations no longer apply. And so the battle lines are drawn up.
Holloway plays the idealistic shopkeeper, Arthur Pemberton, who sees
a chance to throw off the shackles of bureaucracy and really help his
community. Paul Dupuis simply oozes
Gallic charm as the newly discovered Duke of Burgundy, come to claim his
inheritance. Margaret Rutherford is
a joy to watch as the wonderfully batty Professor Hatton-Jones. While Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford return as ‘Stalker and Gregg’ – the hugely popular,
cricket loving civil servants who (in various guises) appeared in over a dozen
movies and were even pencilled in to make an appearance in The Third Man (1949). There are also bit part appearances from some
of British cinema’s most familiar faces, including a startlingly young Charles Hawtrey and Michael Hordern.
However, no matter how familiar the faces and how whimsical
the premis, Clarke’s screenplays never shirk from showing us uncomfortable
truths. The London we see in Passport is battered and bruised. Her communities
are fragmented and fragile – but are they truly broken? Suddenly, liberated
from rationing and the wartime mend and make do mentality, what will the
Burgundians do? What would it be like to live in a world where the law is
absent and mob rule holds sway? And will the MPs ever return from their Summer
holidays and actually decide to do something? Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
A year after the riots, with wages, benefits and public
spending being slashed, there are many communities who are going to find a
seamy Summer of sport and excess very hard to swallow. Passport To Pimlico
restored edition of Passport To Pimlico will be released on DVD, Blue-Ray and
EST on 11th June.