Fantasies of invasion and dreams of a land worth defending

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British Cinema

Convenor: Judith Buchanan (

MA module

Spring Term 2013

‘British Cinema’ studies films from the 1940s to the present. It examines the idea of a ‘national cinema’ by individual case-study, considers a range of films as emerging from, and contributing to, broader cultural and historical impetuses, analyses the range of literary influences, analogues and legatees associated with these cinematic releases and studies the films themselves both as cultural documents and evolving examples of cinematic art.

All films will be considered firmly in the context of their moment of production and release, as illustrative of, and contributing to broader social, cultural and political imperatives. As a necessary part of the evolving investigation, we will ask what is a national cinema, and how does it play to (and against) questions of national identity. What visions of Englishness and Britishness have been peddled to the world through cinematic export? How has the industry both supported and challenged the idea of a stable national identity?



British films of the 1940s:

fantasies of invasion and dreams of a land worth defending

Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)

A Canterbury Tale (Powell and Pressburger, 1944)

Supplementary viewing:

The Silent Village (Humphrey Jennings, 1943)

For The Silent Village, watch whole film online (34 minutes 46 seconds) and read Monthly Film Bulletin review at:

In this seminar we will consider questions of propaganda, national need and the celebration of national character. We will discuss the uses to which cinema was put at an acutely pressured moment of British history. The discussion may well explore some of the interfaces between documentary film-making and feature films, and the poeticism of Jennings’ filmmaking. Bring to the seminar with you prepared potential discussion subjects in response to each film.

Supplementary viewing:

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell and Pressburger, 1943)

A Matter of Life and Death (Powell and Pressburger, 1946)

Humphrey Jennings documentaries – Listen to Britain, London Can Take It (aka Britain Can Take It), Fires were Started, A Diary for Timothy.

More tangentially: Things to Come (London Film Productions, 1936) – available via imdb

If War Should Come – a 10-min government information film, produced by GPO Film Unit, about responding to air raid warnings etc. View at BFI.

Required reading:

Andrew Higson, ‘The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema’ in Mette Hjort and Scott MacKenzie, eds., Cinema and Nation (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp.63-74 [pdf to be supplied by Friday of Week 1]

Anthony Smith, ‘Images of the Nation: Cinema, art and national identity’, in Mette Hjort and Scott MacKenzie, eds., Cinema and Nation (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp.45-59 [pdf].

Amy Sargeant, British Cinema: A Critical History (BFI, 2005), Ch.6 ‘Second World War’, pp.145-167 (key texts).

Antonia Lant, Blackout: Reinventing Women for Wartime British Cinema (Princeton UP, 1991), pp.197-219 [key texts].

James Chapman, The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda 1939-1945 (London and NY: I.B.Tauris, 1998), pp. 1-9, 41-85, 216-231 (key texts).

Penelope Huston, Went the Day Well? (BFI, 1992) – dip judiciously as suits (key texts).

Supplementary reading:

Valentina Vitali and Paul Willemen, eds., Theorising National Cinema (BFI, 2006), Introduction and Philip Rosen’s opening chapter, pp. 1-28.

Andrew Moor, Powell and Pressburger: A Cinema of Magical Spaces (I.B.Tauris, 2005), pp.85-118 (key texts).

Lindsay Anderson, ‘Only Connect: Some Aspects of the Work of Humphrey Jennings’, Film Quarterly v.15, n.2 (Winter, 1961-2), pp.5-12. First published in Sight and Sound 1954. Available through JSTOR.

Jinhee Choi, ‘National Cinema, the Very Idea’, in Noel Carroll and Jinhee Choi, eds., Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), pp.310-319.

Ian Conrich, ‘Traditions of the British Horror Film’, in Andrew Murphy, ed., The British Cinema Book 3rd edn (Palgrave Macmillan/BFI, 2008), pp 96-105.

Lara Feigel, Literature, Cinema and Politics 1930-1945: Reading Between the Frames (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), Ch. 3.

Keith Beattie, Humphrey Jennings (Manchester University Press, 2010) – dip judiciously.

Fredric Jameson, ‘On Magic Realism in Film’, Critical Inquiry 12.2 (Winter 1986), pp.301-325. Stable URL:

Siegfried Kracauer, ‘Basic Concepts’, from Theory of Film. About the realist and the fantasy tendency in film-making as established early in cinema’s history. Widely anthologised. See, for example, Braudy and Cohen.

E.Sussex, ‘Cavalcanti in England’, Sight and Sound (Autumn 1975), pp.205-11.

D.Badder, ‘Powell and Pressburger: The War Years’, Sight and Sound v.48, n.1 (Winter, 1978-79).

R. Colls and P. Dodd, ‘Representing the Nation: British Documentary Film 1930-1945’, Screen xxvi, n.1 (Jan-Feb 1985) JBM – LP

Nicholas Reeves, The Power of Film Propaganda: Myth or Reality? (London: Cassell, 1999), pp. 164-204.

Ian Christie, ed., The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Faber, 1994)

Sian Nicholas, The Echo of War: Home Front Propaganda and the Wartime BBC (MUP, 1996), Ch. 5.

Ian Aitken, Alberto Cavalcanti: realism, surrealism and national cinemas (Flicks, 2000)

Mark Rawlinson, British Writing of the Second World War (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000), Ch.1.

Paul Swann, The British Documentary Film Movement 1926-1946 (CUP, 1989).

Jo Fox, Film Propaganda in Britain and Nazi Germany (Oxford: Berg, 2007).



Cinematic allegories of female empowerment & transgression

at the end of the war

Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

The Seventh Veil (Compton Bennett, 1945)

The 2nd World War changed social structures and gender relations in Britain as elsewhere. A raft of films released near or after the end of the war made it their project explicitly to reflect on the role of women within relationships and within society. How do these films narrate the story of their central female protagonist and in what ways do the preoccupations or social needs of their moment find narratively encoded expression within these tales?

Supplementary viewing:

The Wicked Lady (Leslie Arliss, 1945)

Fanny by Gaslight (Anthony Asquith, 1944)

Black Narcissus (Powell and Pressburger, 1946)

The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger, 1948)

Required reading:

Carol Smart, ‘Good wives and moral lives: marriage and divorce 1937-1951’, in Christine Gledhill and Gillian Swanson, eds., Nationalising Femininity: Culture, Sexuality and British Cinema in the Second World War (Manchester University Press, 1996), pp.91-105 (key texts).

Tessa Perkins, ‘Two weddings and two funerals: the problem of the post-war woman’, in Christine Gledhill and Gillian Swanson (1996), pp.264-281 (pdf).

Antonia Lant, ‘Processing History: The Timing of Brief Encounter’, in Blackout: reinventing women for wartime British cinema (NJ, 1991), pp.153-196 (key texts).

Chapman, pp. 201-215 (key texts).

Sue Harper, Women in British Cinema: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know (Continuum, 2000), Ch. 2, pp.30-51 (key texts).

Supplementary reading:

Either: Masterworks of the British Cinema (includes screenplay of Brief Encounter)

Or: Noel Coward, Brief Encounter (screenplay)

Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-1949 (Routledge, 1989), pp. 109-119.

Peter William Evans, ‘James Mason: the man between’, in Bruce Babington, ed. British Stars and Stardom: from Alma Taylor to Sean Connery (MUP, 2001), pp. 108-119.

Sue Harper, Picturing the past: The Rise and Fall of the British Costume Film (BFI, 1994), pp. 128-131

LP 4.30942 HAR (on costume in The Wicked Lady)

J. P. Mayer, British Cinemas and their Audiences: Sociological Studies (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948).

Noel Coward, Collected Plays (Methuen, 1983-2003), v.3 includes the play ‘Still Life’ from which Brief Encounter was adapted.



Graham Greene and Carol Reed

The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed, 1948)

The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

Carol Reed’s direction of Graham Greene’s work has produced memorable and now cultish work. In this seminar we look at the detail of Greene’s writing, of Carol’s direction, at the performances this elicited, at the films’ cultural-historical roots in, and reflections on, their moment, and at their evolving reception since.

Supplementary viewing:

Odd Man Out (Carol Reed, 1947)

Brighton Rock (John Boulting, 1947)

Our Man in Havana (Carol Reed, 1957)

The End of the Affair (Neil Jordan, 1999)

Required reading:

Graham Greene, The Fallen Idol – bring copy to seminar

Graham Greene, The Third Man – bring copy to seminar

Neil Sinyard, Graham Greene: A Literary Life (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) – read as much as time allows.

Charles Dazin, In Search of the Third Man (Methuen, 1999) [sample generously according to taste] (key texts and other copies in library).

Peter William Evans, Carol Reed (Manchester University Press, 2005), Ch. 4, pp.80-105 (key texts).

Amy Sargeant, British Cinema: A Critical History (BFI, 2005), Ch.6 ‘Second World War’, pp.167-182 (key texts).

Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles (New York, 1998), pp.219-222 (on key texts and a couple of other copies in library).

Supplementary reading:

André Bazin, ‘In Defense of Mixed Cinema’, in What is Cinema? vol.1., pp.53-75. (NB: I see that the majority of this essay is currently available via Google books online. And there are, of course, multiple copies in library.) Bump this Bazin essay up to Required Reading?

Robert F. Moss, The Films of Carol Reed (Columbia University Press, 1987), Ch.7, pp. 167-194.

Brenda Davies, ed., Carol Reed (London: BFI, 1978)

Jim Gribble, ‘The Third Man: Graham Greene and Carol Reed’, Literature/Film Quarterly, v.26, n.3 (1998): 235-239

Kevin Jackson, Graham Greene Film Reader (Carcanet, 1993)

Gene D. Phillips, Graham Greene: The Films of his Fiction 2nd edn (American Literature Distribution Corporation, 2000)

William F. van Wert, ‘The Third Man: Capturing the Visual Essence of Literary Conception’, Literature/Film Quarterly, v.2, n.4 (Autumn, 1974): 332-346.

Judith Adamson, Graham Greene and Cinema (Oklahoma: Pilgrim Books, 1984)

Brian Diemert, Graham Greene’s Thriller and the 1930s (McGill- Queen’s University Press, 1997)


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