Passport to Pimlico
|Passport to Pimlico|
Original UK cinema poster
|Directed by||Henry Cornelius|
|Produced by||Michael Balcon|
|Written by||T. E. B. Clarke|
|Distributed by||General Film Distributors (UK)|
The script was written by T. E. B. Clarke and demonstrated his usual logical development of absurd ideas. Some scenes in which the residents are refused passage out of their district into London by the authorities, and rely on supplies thrown over the dividing wall by well-wishers, were very topical because the film was made during the Berlin blockade.
The film was inspired by a true incident during the Second World War, when the maternity ward of Ottawa Civic Hospital was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the Canadian government so that, when Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born there, she would not lose her right to the throne. The film was screened at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival, but not entered into the competition.
When some local children roll a tractor tyre down a hole, it sets off an unexploded bomb left over from the Second World War in Miramont Gardens in the Pimlico district of London. The explosion reveals a buried cellar containing artwork, coins, jewellery and an ancient parchment document. Professor Hatton-Jones (Margaret Rutherford) authenticates it as a royal charter of Edward IV that ceded the house and its estates to Charles VII ("the Rash"), the last Duke of Burgundy, when he sought refuge there several centuries ago after being presumed dead at the Battle of Nancy. As the charter had never been revoked, Pimlico is legally part of Burgundy. Local policeman P.C. Spiller (Philip Stainton) is shocked to realise "Blimey! I'm a foreigner!"
The British government has no legal jurisdiction and requires the Burgundians to form a representative committee according to the laws of the long-defunct dukedom before negotiating with them. Ancient Burgundian law requires that the Duke himself appoint a council. Without one, all seems lost - until a young man from Dijon (Paul Dupuis) steps forward and proves that he is the heir to the dukedom. He duly forms a governing body; one of its members is the shrewd shopkeeper Arthur Pemberton (Stanley Holloway), designated Burgundy's Prime Minister.
Very quickly, Burgundy (followed soon after by the rest of London) realises that it is not subject to post-war rationing and other bureaucratic restrictions, and the district is quickly flooded with entrepreneurs, crooks, and eager shoppers. A noisy free-for-all ensues, which Spiller, the Chief (and only) Constable of Burgundy, finds himself unable to handle. Then the British authorities close the "border" with barbed wire. Having left the United Kingdom without their passports, the bargain hunters have trouble returning home - as one policeman replies to an indignant woman, "Don't blame me Madam, if you choose to go abroad to do your shopping."
The Burgundians decide that two can play this game and stop an underground train dead in its tracks. "The train is now at the Burgundy frontier", explains an agent of the newly formed customs and excise department. They proceed to ask the passengers if they have anything to declare.
The infuriated British government retaliates by breaking off negotiations. Burgundy is cut off, like the western sectors of post-war Berlin, and the residents are invited to "emigrate" to England. But the Burgundians are "a fighting people" and, though the children are evacuated, the adults stand fast. As Mrs. Pemberton (Betty Warren) puts it, "We've always been English and we'll always be English; and it's precisely because we are English that we're sticking up for our right to be Burgundians!"
Pimlico is cut off from electricity, food and water (though there is plenty of gin and crisps). The water problem is solved by a covert raid late one night, refilling the reservoir with hoses attached to the nearest fire hydrant on the British side of the border. Unfortunately, the food supply is spoiled when the cellar where it is being stored becomes flooded, and it appears that the Burgundians are beaten. Just in time, three Burgundian youngsters learn about this crisis and toss food across the border, setting an example for sympathetic Londoners; they begin throwing food parcels across the barrier in an improvised "airlift", echoing the one that ended the Berlin blockade. Soon, others get into the act. A helicopter drops a hose to deliver milk. Even swine are parachuted in.
Meanwhile, the government comes under public pressure to resolve the problem. It becomes clear to the bumbling British diplomats assigned to find a solution, Gregg (Basil Radford) and Straker (Naunton Wayne), that defeating the Burgundians would be no easy task, so they negotiate. The sticking point turns out to be the disposition of the unearthed treasure. At last, the local bank manager-turned-Burgundian Chancellor of the Exchequer (Raymond Huntley) hits upon a novel solution: "A Burgundian loan to Britain!"
With negotiations successfully concluded, an outdoor banquet is prepared to welcome Burgundy back into the fold. Just as Big Ben strikes the hour of reunification, the Burgundians realise they truly are back in England when a torrential downpour sends the temperature plummeting and everyone scurrying for cover.
The outdoor scenes were actually shot about a mile away in Lambeth and not in Pimlico. A set was built on a large Second World War bombsite just south of the Lambeth Road at the junction of Hercules Road. This has now been built on by 1960s municipal flats; however, the buildings on the junction of Hercules Road and Lambeth Road can still be recognised from the film as can the railway bridge going over Lambeth Road, particularly from the scenes where food is thrown to the "Burgundians".
A BBC Radio 4 adaptation was broadcast on 20 January 1996.
A similar plot was the basis of the German film Die Dubrow-Krise (1969) that depicted a fictional East German town joining West Germany. Many problems that eventually plagued the actual reunification 20 years later were accurately predicted in the film.