The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

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The Life and Death of
Colonel Blimp
Cinema poster
Directed byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Written byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Produced byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
StarringRoger Livesey
Anton Walbrook
Deborah Kerr
CinematographyGeorges Perinal
Edited byJohn Seabourne Sr.
Music byAllan Gray
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
  • 10 June 1943 (1943-06-10)
Running time
163 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£200,000 or US$2 million[1] or £188,812[2]
Box office$275,472 (US)[3]

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a 1943 British romantic-war film written, produced and directed by the British film-making team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It stars Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr and Anton Walbrook. The title derives from the satirical Colonel Blimp comic strip by David Low, but the story is original. One film critic has described it as "England's greatest film ever"[4] and it is renowned for its sophistication and directorial brilliance as well as for its script, the performances of its large cast and for its pioneering Technicolor cinematography. Among its distinguished company of actors, particular praise has been reserved for Livesey, Walbrook and Kerr.


Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy is a senior commander in the Home Guard during the Second World War. Before a training exercise, he is "captured" in a Turkish bath by soldiers led by Lieutenant "Spud" Wilson, who has struck pre-emptively. He ignores Candy's outraged protests that "War starts at midnight!" They scuffle and fall into a bathing pool.

An extended flashback ensues.

Boer War
In 1902, Lieutenant Candy is on leave from the Boer War, where he has won the Victoria Cross. He receives a letter from Edith Hunter, who is working in Berlin. She complains that a German named Kaunitz is spreading anti-British "propaganda" regarding the Second Boer War concentration camps, and she wants the British embassy to intervene. When Candy brings this to his superiors' attention, they refuse him permission to go to Berlin, but he goes anyway.

In Berlin, Candy and Edith go to a café, where he confronts Kaunitz. Provoked, Candy inadvertently insults the Imperial German Army officer corps. The Germans insist he fight a duel with an officer chosen by lot: Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff. In the duel, both Candy and Theo suffer injuries, but become friends while recuperating. Edith visits them regularly and, although it is implied that she has feelings for Candy,[5] she becomes engaged to Theo. Candy is delighted, but soon realises that he loves her himself. Upon returning home, Candy takes Edith's sister Martha to the opera, but no romance is sparked.

First World War
In November 1918, Candy, now a brigadier general, believes the Allies won the First World War because "right is might". While in France with his driver Murdoch, Candy meets nurse Barbara Wynne, who bears a striking resemblance to Edith. He courts and marries her despite their 20-year age difference, while Murdoch becomes their butler.

In July 1919, Candy tracks Theo down at a prisoner of war camp in Derbyshire. Candy greets him as if nothing has changed, but Theo snubs him.

On 26 August, about to be repatriated to Germany, Theo apologises and accepts an invitation to Candy's house. He remains sceptical that his country will be treated fairly.

Barbara dies in August 1926, and Candy retires in 1935.

Second World War
In November 1939, Theo relates to a British Immigration official how he was estranged from his children when they became Nazis. Before the war, he refused to move to England when Edith wanted; by the time he was ready, she had died. Candy vouches for Theo.

Candy reveals to Theo that he loved Edith and only realised it after it was too late. He admits that he never got over it. Theo meets Angela "Johnny" Cannon, who is Candy's MTC driver; Theo is struck by her resemblance to Barbara and Edith.

Candy, restored to the active list as a major-general, is to give a BBC radio talk regarding the retreat from Dunkirk. Candy plans to say he would rather lose the war than win it using the methods employed by the Nazis: his talk is cancelled. Theo urges his friend to accept the need to fight and win by whatever means are necessary because the consequences of losing are so dire.

Candy again is retired, but, at Theo's and Angela's urging, turns his energy to the Home Guard - his efforts in building this organisation win him national press attention.[a] His house is bombed in the Blitz, claiming the life of Murdoch, and the land is replaced by an emergency water supply cistern. He moves to his club, where he relaxes in a Turkish bath before a training exercise he has arranged.

The brash young lieutenant who captures Candy is Angela's boyfriend, who used her to learn about Candy's plans and location. She tries to warn Candy, but it is too late.

Theo and Angela find Candy sitting across the street from where his house stood. He recalls that after being dressed down by his superior for causing the diplomatic incident, he declined the man's invitation to dinner, and often regretted doing so. He tells Angela to invite her boyfriend to dine with him.

Years before, Candy promised Barbara that he would "never change" until his house was flooded and "this is a lake". Seeing the cistern, he realises that "here is the lake and I still haven't changed". Candy salutes the new guard as it passes by him.


Cast notes:


Writing and casting[edit]

According to the directors, the idea for the film did not come from the newspaper comic strip by David Low but from a scene cut from their previous film One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), in which an elderly member of the crew tells a younger one: "You don't know what it's like to be old." Powell has stated that the idea was suggested by David Lean (then a film editor) who, when removing the scene from the film, mentioned that the premise of the conversation was worthy of a film.[7]

Powell wanted Laurence Olivier (who had appeared in Powell and Pressburger's 49th Parallel and The Volunteer) to play Candy. However, the Ministry of Information refused to release Olivier—who was serving in the Fleet Air Arm—from active service, telling Powell and Pressburger "we advise you not to make it and you can't have Laurence Olivier because he's in the Fleet Air Arm and we're not going to release him to play your Colonel Blimp".[8]

Powell wanted Wendy Hiller to play Kerr's parts but she withdrew due to pregnancy. The character of Frau von Kalteneck, a friend of Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, was played by Roger Livesey's wife Ursula Jeans. Although they often appeared on stage together, this was their only appearance together in a film.

More problems were caused by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who, prompted by objections from James Grigg, his secretary of state for war, sent a memo suggesting the production be stopped. Grigg warned that the public's belief in the "Blimp conception of the Army officer" would be given "a new lease of life".[9] After Ministry of Information and War Office officials had viewed a rough cut, objections were withdrawn in May 1943. Churchill's disapproval remained, however, and at his insistence an export ban, much exploited in advertising by the British distributors, remained in place until August of that year.[9]


The film was shot in four months at Denham Film Studios and on location in and around London, and at Denton Hall in Yorkshire. Filming was made difficult by the wartime shortages and by Churchill's objections leading to a ban on the production crew having access to any military personnel or equipment. But they still managed to "find" quite a few Army vehicles and plenty of uniforms.

Michael Powell said of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp that it is

... a 100% British film but it's photographed by a Frenchman, it's written by a Hungarian, the musical score is by a German Jew, the director was English, the man who did the costumes was a Czech; in other words, it was the kind of film that I've always worked on with a mixed crew of every nationality, no frontiers of any kind.[10]

At other times he also pointed out that the designer was German, and the leads included Austrian and Scottish actors.

The military adviser for the film was Lieutenant General Douglas Brownrigg (1886–1946), whose own career was rather similar to Wynne-Candy's, as he had served with distinction in the First World War, was retired after Dunkirk, and then took a senior role in the Home Guard.[11]


  • The Bull, Oxford Road, Gerrards Cross (Spud's rendezvous with Angela)
  • Denton Hall, Wharfedale (Wynne family home)
  • 15 Ovington Square, Kensington (Aunt Margaret's, and later, Clive and Barbara's house; called 33 Cadogan Place in the script)
  • 139 Park Lane, Mayfair (Home Guard Headquarters)[12]

Reception upon original release[edit]

The film was released in the UK in 1943. The première, organised by Lady Margaret Alexander, took place on 10 June at the Odeon Leicester Square, London, with all proceeds donated to the Odeon Services and Seamen's Fund.[13] The film was heavily attacked on release mainly because of its sympathetic presentation of a German officer, albeit an anti-Nazi one, who is more down-to-earth and realistic than the central British character. Sympathetic German characters had appeared in the films of Powell and Pressburger, for example The Spy in Black and 49th Parallel, the latter of which was made during the war.

The film provoked the extremist pamphlet "The Shame and Disgrace of Colonel Blimp" by "right-wing sociologists E.W. and M.M. Robson", members of the obscure Sidneyan Society, which proclaimed it a "highly elaborate, flashy, flabby and costly film, the most disgraceful production that has ever emanated from a British film studio."

The film was the third most popular movie at the British box office in 1943, after In Which We Serve and Casablanca.[14][15]

Due to the British government's disapproval of the film, it was not released in the United States until 1945 and then in a modified form, in black and white as The Adventures of Colonel Blimp or simply Colonel Blimp. The original cut was 163 minutes. It was reduced to a 150-minute version, then later to 90 minutes for television, both in black and white. One of the crucial changes made to the shortened versions was the removal of the film's flashback structure.[16]


In 1983, the original cut was restored for a re-release, much to Emeric Pressburger's delight. Pressburger, as affirmed by his grandson Kevin Macdonald on a Carlton Region 2 DVD featurette, considered Blimp the best of his and Powell's works.

Nearly 30 years later, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp underwent another restoration similar to that performed on The Red Shoes. The fundraising was spearheaded by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese's long-time editor and Michael Powell's widow. Restoration work was completed by the Academy Film Archive[17] in association with the BFI, ITV Studios Global Entertainment Ltd. (the current copyright holders), and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by The Material World Charitable Foundation, the Louis B. Mayer Foundation, Cinema per Roma Foundation, and The Film Foundation.

Reputation and analysis[edit]

Although the film is strongly pro-British, it is a satire on the British Army, especially its leadership. It suggests that Britain faced the option of following traditional notions of honourable warfare or to "fight dirty" in the face of such an evil enemy as Nazi Germany.[18][19] There is also a certain similarity between Candy and Churchill, and some historians have suggested that Churchill may have wanted the production stopped because he had mistaken the film for a parody of himself (he had himself served in the Boer War and the First World War).[20][21] Churchill's exact reasons remain unclear, but he was acting only on a description of the planned film from his staff, not on a viewing of the film itself.

Since the highly successful re-release of the film in the 1980s, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp has been re-evaluated.[22] The film is praised for its dazzling Technicolor cinematography, the performances by the lead actors as well as for transforming, in Roger Ebert's words "a blustering, pigheaded caricature into one of the most loved of all movie characters".[23] David Mamet has written: "My idea of perfection is Roger Livesey (my favorite actor) in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (my favorite film) about to fight Anton Walbrook (my other favorite actor)."[24] Stephen Fry saw the film as addressing "what it means to be English", and praised it for the bravery of taking a "longer view of history" in 1943.[25] Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote in 1995 that the film "may be the greatest English film ever made, not least because it looks so closely at the incurable condition of being English".[26]

The film appears in Empire magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time at number 80.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ in a magazine article shown on the screen his Home Guard rank is given as Zone Commander, equivalent to brigadier. However, he is shown wearing the insignia of a colonel.


  1. ^ "Indies $70,000,000 Pix Output". Variety: 3. 3 November 1944. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  2. ^ Macdonald, Kevin (1994). Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter. Faber and Faber. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-571-16853-8.
  3. ^ Street, Sarah (2002), Transatlantic Crossings: British Feature Films in the USA, Continuum, p. 97.
  4. ^ Fleming, Colin (27 March 2013). "The Greatest British Film Ever is 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp'". The Atlantic.
  5. ^ This is suggested by Michael Powell in the DVD commentary track.
  6. ^ Erik at IMDb, Spangle at IMDb
  7. ^ Michael Powell, commentary on the Criterion Collection, Laserdisc (also available on the Criterion DVD).
  8. ^ Chapman, James. "'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' reconsidered". The Powell & Pressburger Pages. Archived from the original on 16 February 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  9. ^ a b Aldgate, Anthony; Richards, Jeffrey (1999). Best of British. Cinema and Society (2 ed.). London: I. B. Taurus. ISBN 978-1-86064-288-3.
  10. ^ Christie, Ian (1985), "Powell and Pressburger"; in David Lazar, Michael Powell: Interviews, 2003. ISBN 1-57806-498-8.
  11. ^ Penny, Summerfield; Peniston-Bird, Corinna (15 June 2007). Contesting Home Defense: Men, Women, and the Home Guard in the Second World War. Manchester University Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-0719062025.
  12. ^ "Reelstreets | Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The". Retrieved 9 August 2023.
  13. ^ "Film of 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp'". The Times. London. 3 June 1943. p. 7.
  14. ^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 2003 p 206
  15. ^ Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 231.
  16. ^ As may be seen in the shortened version available at some national libraries like the BFI
  17. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  18. ^ Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger (18 September 2018). "Life and Death of Colonel Blimp_The" – via Internet Archive.
  19. ^ As is shown in the film in Theo's speech to Clive after Clive's broadcast is cancelled
  20. ^ Powell, Michael; Emeric Pressburger (1994). Ian Christie (ed.). The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-14355-5.
  21. ^ Kennedy, A. L. (1997). The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. BFI. ISBN 0-85170-568-5.
  22. ^ Chapman, James (March 1995). "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: reconsidered". Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television: 19–36. doi:10.1080/01439689500260021.
  23. ^ Ebert, Roger (27 October 2002). "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)". Archived from the original on 10 March 2005.
  24. ^ Mamet, David (2007). Bambi vs. Godzilla. p. 148.
  25. ^ Stephen Fry, interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, 2003
  26. ^ Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 20 March 1995.
  27. ^ "The 100 Greatest Movies". Archived from the original on 26 October 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2023.


Includes the contents of Public Record Office file on the film
  • Christie, Ian. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (script) by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. London: Faber & Faber, 1994. ISBN 0-571-14355-5.
Includes the contents of Public Record Office file on the film, memos to & from Churchill and the script showing the difference between the original and final versions

External links[edit]

DVD reviews
Region 2 UK – Carlton DVD
Region 2 France – Warner Home Vidéo/L'Institut Lumière
  • Review by John White at DVD Times (UK)
Region 1 USA – Criterion Collection
DVD comparisons