Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 271 mins
Released: 6 July 2009
Cat No: BFIVD760
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The GPO Film Unit Collection: Volume 3 - If War Should Come
A selection of restored vintage shorts made for theatrical release, originally produced by the GPO Film Unit shortly before the outbreak... Read More
The third volume in this essential series of British documentaries features the final productions of the GPO Film Unit, from the years 1939-40, before it took on official war duties as the Crown Film Unit.
The subject of war of course dominates the films, although it takes a while this to become apparent. While The City considers the ‘higgledy-piggledy mass of brick and concrete’ that is London, and its possibilities for redevelopment, The Islanders journeys from Eriskay in the Hebrides to Guernsey, and (this being the GPO with communication on its mind) optimistically states that ‘water, air and ether are not barriers but bridges’.
The first mention that times are awry comes in A Midsummer Day’s Work, about laying an underground telephone cable between Amersham and Aylesbury, when the narrator mentions that it ‘plays an important part in the plans for the defence of Britain’. One senses that the film’s celebration of the countryside comes from an awareness that it is under threat. Then, with If War Should Come, the tone becomes serious, serving notice that times have changed completely, not just with advice about building shelters and putting buckets of sand on the landing, but also that personal requirements now come second after the needs of the nation. It’s a sobering short film, whose anxious tone is not alleviated by the forced levity of War Library Items 1, 2 & 3, which deals with identity cards, watchful waiting and the Auxiliary Fire Service respectively.
The best known films in the set though are those featuring the input of Humphrey Jennings: Spare Time, his portait of leisure activities in the steel, cotton and coal industries; The First Days, an evocative film of Londoners fighting war with tolerance and co-operation; London Can Take It!, a report from the heart of the Blitz that helped shift American public opinion towards supporting the Allies, and Spring Offensive, about wartime farming. Innovative docu-dramas, poignant dispatches and assorted rarities complete the set, and the films look better than any previous outing on dvd, with some prints startling in their clarity.