Negotiating Identities in Britain During the Second World War
Edited By Wendy Ugolini and Juliette Pattinson
Scottish cinema-goers at war: The popular reception of British and Scottish films during the Second World War
The Second World War is often identified as the point at which British film acquired cultural significance. While a sizeable production industry had developed from the late 1920s, assisted by the protection afforded by legislation which required exhibitors to screen a growing proportion of footage that was ‘British’ in origin, its output had rarely enjoyed either commercial success or critical acceptance.1 Such problems would be overcome in the altered circumstances of wartime. While film production fell in volume to levels not seen since the mid 1920s, this smaller output offered, it has been argued, a more coherent view of a nation united by the stresses of war and which resonated with a cinema-going population close to its numerical peak.2 In Robert Murphy’s words the war placed film at ‘The Heart of Britain’, while for Charles Drazin, these were, for a cinematic few, unquestionably The Finest Years.3 Nor is this an interpretation bestowed by posterity. Speaking in September 1944 at a lunch to mark the press preview in Edinburgh of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s ← 137 | 138 → A Canterbury Tale (1944), Ritson Bennell, Divisional Superintendent of the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation in Scotland, remarked on the enhanced standing of British films in wartime. Justifying his claim, Bennell pointed to titles which have subsequently secured acceptance as part of a critical canon of culturally meaningful films, including 49th Parallel (1941), In Which We Serve (1942), The First of the Few (1942), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), and The...
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