Classic British comedy from Ealing Studios comes to Blu for the first time as Little Englanders become Little Burgundians in Passport To Pimlico.
After an unexploded bomb is accidentally detonated in a small borough of London, Arthur Pemberton (Stanley Holloway) discovers a secret treasure trove full of riches and a collection of papers which shows that the area is in fact not a part of England, instead being the territory of the Duke of Burgundy, and now his descendant (Paul Dupuis) is back to take control. When the people of Pimlico decide to enforce this, and create their own small nation, the Government intervenes creating an increasingly frayed stand-off between the people of Pimlico and the authorities.
British cinema of pre-1970′s is probably one of the weakest spots in my film watching knowledge. I have only recently made a decision to delve head first into the work of Powell & Pressburger (though yes, I have seen The Red Shoes) and I would also very much like to explore the Ealing comedies of the post-WW2 period when the studio was king for British comedy. Funnily enough Passport To Pimlico is an exception to that rule as I have actually seen it more than once, it actually being a prescribed film in my Film Studies course at university, showing that it has more to say than giving us knockabout laughs. Indeed, as socially aware comedy goes, it’s incredibly forward thinking stuff, though disguised amongst an awful lot of silliness.
For a film of 1949, Passport To Pimlico still feels strikingly relevant. Here we have a world where politicians say a lot and do little. When faced with the problems of Pimlico, Government ministers who are supposed to be dealing with the problem instead spend their energy looking for someone else to take the wrap and do the work. While this isn’t as obviously played out today, this material can see definite links with British comedy of the next decades and beyond, shows like Yes Minister and The Thick Of It constantly showing us that politicians are little more than blow-hards and this is something Passport To Pimlico takes very much to heart. It is not the Government who solves the issues, it is public opinion which sways them instead. Looking at it now, it’s rather amazing how un-evolved the current political system is now from when this was made, the South Park idea of “rabble rabble” whenever crowds congregate hanging on my mind when watching this, believing that policy can be affected by people shouting and laughing in this film as much as it seems to be able to in real-life, whether through the media or in the House of Commons where Prime Minister’s Questions often devolves into nothing more than random noises punctuated by occasional questions.
Pimlico doesn’t blame the Government entirely though, and this is something which only serves to make every point more valid. The people of Pimlico initially take the decision to form a Republic whilst all drunk in the local pub. The morning after the hangover is there and the trouble starts. These are good, ordinary people but they are fallible. They may have fighting spirit but if they’d actually stopped and thought in the first place, something Arthur Pemberton tries to do throughout with little success, things would have been fixed a lot quicker. But then we wouldn’t have a film would we? It certainly makes us side with the people of Pimlico but it’s not all a one-way street, they often do not help themselves with decisions made through the course of proceedings but they are a good bunch.
Getting away from the more serious side of the film though, it is certainly very entertaining and made me laugh several times. While the ”knees up Mother Brown” frolicking is rather old hat now, it does have a nice line in observational comedy throughout and also ends on a terrific punchline which though obvious, is one which will ring true for any person living on our isles. Working less well is the sub-plot involving the Duke of Burgundy where the arc seems to be forgotten about halfway through, I certainly had doubts about his authenticity and the film seems do too but this is misplaced as we get to the 3rd act, and the love interest sub-plots don’t work all that well, though one conversation does a nice job of questioning the expectations vs reality nature of flings with foreigners. The cast are all perfectly solid too though I can’t say anyone knocked my socks off, all are pleasant enough regardless.
Passport To Pimlico is a smart, sharp and funny little film which may have aged but still has many things to say of note. It’s not perfect but it’s a brisk and entertaining 84 minutes for sure.
The film arrives on Blu-Ray through StudioCanal who are also giving it a one-day only cinematic re-release as part of a celebration of British cinema they are holding. With a digital restoration, the film has likely never looked better with a 1.33:1 1080p print which has been cleaned up very nicely and while the image looks a tad soft at times, it serves perfectly well as a transfer of a film over 60 years old. It would likely be uncharitable to compare this work to the likes of the phenomenal picture of Warner’s US Citizen Kane Blu-Ray as this won’t have had nearly as much money spent on it but it certainly doesn’t embarrass itself. Audio consists of a PCM mono track put through stereo speakers, so the exact same track through 2 channels, which sounds decent though at times a little muddy. Again, restoration of this scale can probably only do so much but I did find it a little difficult on occasion to work out exactly what was being said, the sound mix perhaps could have done with a bit more tweaking.
Extras on the disc turn out to be somewhat limited, a bit of a disappointment given just how important this film is in the scheme of Ealing, but there’s still good stuff here. Headed by two featurettes hosted by experts from the BFI, one with Mark Duguid who talks about the films’ place in Ealing’s comedies at the time with it being part of a trio, topped off by Whisky Galore! and Kind Hearts & Coronets which came to define what Ealing became legendary for. He also goes on to talk about how the post-WW2 feel of the time effected the film and also talks about the cast. Richard Dacre then takes us on a brief tour of some of the locations used in the film highlighting just how much of it was shot in real places, though not in Pimlico itself funnily enough. We also get a stills gallery featuring behind-the-scenes shots, a restoration comparison which shows just how much dirt was taken off the image and a trailer which is very much of its time.
A great film, decent video, average audio and an underwhelming set of extras but fans of the film will be very happy with the package here with the main article given an appropriate amount of love.
Passport To Pimlico is out through StudioCanal on Monday 11th June.