A London borough declares its independence from Britain. [ Passport to Pimlico credits: Dir: Henry Cornelius/ Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Hermione Baddeley/ 84 min/ Comedy/ Britain/ Right to Secede]
“We always were English and we always will be English, and it’s just because we are English that we’re sticking out for our right to be Burgundians.” So says one of the spirited citizens of “Burgundy,” a London borough that discovers, through the accidental unearthing of an ancient document, that it’s not legally part of Britain but is in fact a small, independent country.
At first, independence brings economic prosperity and increased freedom to Burgundy through the consequent repeal of existing licensing, regulation, rationing, etc. From a libertarian perspective, this is delightful to see. Particularly satisfying is a scene in which a bar full of people tear up their identity and ration cards en masse in defiance of a policeman who is attempting to enforce laws against after-hours entertainment. And when the British government responds to Burgundian independence with a blockade, the people of this borough fight it and so win public sympathy on account of their plucky underdog status. So far, so good. However, they don’t really have their hearts in breaking away, and after experiencing some hardships, partly due to self-inflicted “wartime” measures, the story ends with a rapprochement and a general desire for things to return as they were. It’s a mix of libertarian defiance and WWII British “we’re all in this together” patriotism, and represents perhaps, an early stirring of the current debate over how just how big a state is desirable.
This is a wonderful gem of a film. The script is hilarious and the direction makes effective use of newsreel documentary style. Best of all, the cast includes some of the finest British comedic acting talent of the time. In particular, Margaret Rutherford gives her usual exaggeratedly dramatic performance and the comedic duo Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne appear as the duplicitous and lazy government officials. Made in 1949, it’s also interesting in its own right as a window into early post-World War II Britain.
External Reviews of It
“Perhaps the most Ealingish of the Ealing comedies…”
“Passport to Pimlico arguably best exemplifies studio head Michael Balcon’s description of Ealing’s postwar films as ‘our mild revolution’.”
“A ripping and ingeniously mounted British comedy.”
How to See It
Passport to Pimlico, The Musical
It’s a tribute to this film that more than half a century after its release it’s not only still a popular DVD selection but has now been turned into a musical.
“Passport to Pimlico held its audience entranced throughout.”
–Musical Theatre Review