Passport to Pimlico

UK 1949, 84 mins
Director: Henry Cornelius

By general consent the best of writer T.E.B. Clarke’s six Ealing comedies, Passport to Pimlico arguably best exemplifies studio head Michael Balcon’s description of Ealing’s post-war films as ‘our mild revolution’.

But as with most of the studio’s output, the accent is on the ‘mild’, while the ‘revolutionary’ element is little more than play. Like Clarke’s The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), which imagines a mild-mannered bank clerk turned master criminal (in the nicest possible way), Passport’s story allows its contemporary audience to play out a fantasy of escape – from the unending burden of rationing and postwar ‘austerity’, from government, from Britain – before delivering them safely back to the status quo. The events of the story are more like a holiday – as suggested by the very un-British heatwave, which comes to an immediate end once the Burgundians rejoin Britain.

The film has been described by some as ‘anarchic’. But after the initial starry-eyed celebration of new-found freedoms – which amounts to one long, boozy, after hours knees-up – has passed, the Burgundians quickly install a makeshift government, restore the monarchy (in the form of the returning ‘Duke of Burgundy’) and implement a programme of civic building (a public lido).

Running through the film is a yearning nostalgia for the social unity of the war years, remembered fondly as Britain’s ‘finest hour’. This is most explicit in two sequences late in the film: the first a newsreel praising the fortitude of ‘plucky little Burgundy’ in the face of adversity – exactly the terms in which Britain saw itself in the early part of the war – and the second an extended montage in which the people of London come to the aid of the stricken Burgundians, throwing parcels of food from passing cars and trains – directly evoking the celebrated ‘Dunkirk spirit’.

This exploration of the British (or specifically English) character is at the heart of Passport to Pimlico. For all their dogged resistance, the Burgundians never lose sight of their true national identity, as the film’s most memorable line wittily makes clear: ‘We always were English and we always will be English, and it’s just because we are English that we’re sticking up for our right to be Burgundian!’

Director Henry Cornelius made no further films at Ealing, though he later directed the very Ealing-ish Genevieve (1953) for Rank.
Mark Duguid, BFI Screenonline

‘Passport to Pimlico’: a contemporary review
The accidental explosion of a long-buried bomb in Pimlico reveals a hidden vault in which is found some treasure and a 15th century Royal Charter which decrees that the estate shall be forever recognised as Burgundian territory. The joyful reactions of the inhabitants upon finding themselves thus freed from the irksome restrictions still prevailing in post-war England, and the crazy situations resulting from their attempts to ‘go all French’, provide some hilarious comedy, until a few snags become apparent and ultimately a way out of the increasing difficulties is found.

Every line, every ‘gag’, is a little masterpiece of wit; each character, and indeed every individual member of the lengthy cast, provides a gem of comedy acting at its highest and best. Too much cannot be said in praise of this film, since it is genuinely funny and the humour and pace never flag.
Monthly Film Bulletin, June 1949

Directed by: Henry Cornelius
©: Ealing Studios
Production Company: Ealing Studios
Presented by: The Rank Organisation
Produced by: Michael Balcon
Associate Producer: E.V.H. Emmett
Unit Production Manager: Ralph D. Hogg
Production Supervisor: Hal Mason
Assistant Director: Gordon Scott
Continuity: Jean Graham
Original Screenplay by: T.E.B. Clarke
Director of Photography: Lionel Banes
Camera Operator: Cecil Cooney
Editor: Michael Truman
Art Director: Roy Oxley
Costume Designer: Anthony Mendleson
Make-up: Ernest Taylor
Hair Styles: Barbara Barnard
Music Composed by: Georges Auric
Played by: The Philharmonia Orchestra
Conducted by: Ernest Irving
Sound Supervisor: Stephen Dalby
Recordist: Arthur Bradburn
Sound System Logo: RCA
Made at: Ealing Studios

2nd Assistant Directors: Simon Kershaw, David Peers
3rd Assistant Director: John Assig
Assistant Continuity: Felicia Manheim
2nd Camera Operator: Chic Waterson
Crowd and Small Parts Casting: Muriel Cole
Focus Puller: George Levy
Clapper Loader: Michael Shepherd
Chief Electrician: Jack Ford
Stills: Richard Woodard
Stills Supervisor: Jack Dooley
Assistant Editor: Harry Aldous
Assistant Art Director: Len Wills
Draughtsmen: V. Shaw, Jack Shampan, G. Bryan-Brown, R. Hopkin, R. Thurgarland
Property Master: Bob Tull
Construction Manager: George Speller
Wardrobe Master: Ron Beck
Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs Minell
Make-up: Harry Frampton
Hairdresser: Eleanor Jackson
Boom Operator: Tom Otter
Dubbing Editor: Gordon Stone
Publicity: John Newnham

Stanley Holloway (Arthur Pemberton)
Betty Warren (Connie Pemberton)
Barbara Murray (Shirley Pemberton)
Paul Dupuis (Duke of Burgundy)
John Slater (Frank Huggins)
Jane Hylton (Molly Reid)
Raymond Huntley (Mr P.J. Wix)
Philip Stainton (Police Constable Ted Spiller)
Roy Carr (Benny Spiller)
Sydney Tafler (Fred Cowan)
Nancy Gabrielle (Mrs Cowan)
Malcolm Knight (Monty Cowan)
Hermione Baddeley (Edie Randall)
Roy Gladdish (Charlie Randall)
Frederick Piper (Garland)
Charles Hawtrey (Bert Fitch)
Margaret Rutherford (Professor Hatton-Jones)
Stuart Lindsell (coroner)
Naunton Wayne (Straker)
Basil Radford (Gregg)
Gilbert Davis (Bagshawe)
Michael Hordern (Bashford)
Arthur Howard (Bassett)
Bill Shine (Captain Willow)
Harry Locke (sergeant)
Sam Kydd (Sapper)
Joey Carr (Dave Parsons)
Lloyd Pearson (Fawcett)
Arthur Denton (customs official)
Tommy Godfrey (bus conductor)
James Hayter (commissionaire)
Masoni (conjurer)
Fred Griffiths (Bill, the spiv)
Grace Arnold (pompous woman)
Paul Demel (Central European on train)

Doris Yorke

UK 1949©
84 mins

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