Can Passport to Pimlico predict post-Brexit Britain?
In wake of the historic vote to leave the EU, can we look to the 1949 film for a hint at what's to come?
In this fraught time when the British people in their wisdom (or lack of it, depending on your point of view) have decided they want no more of Europe, there could hardly be a more appropriate film to show than Passport to Pimlico, a delightful Ealing classic (Saturday, Gold). Directed by Henry Cornelius and written by TEB Clarke, it reflects in microcosm what the nation has just been through, a big difference being that it’s played for laughs and I don’t remember many of those during the Referendum.
The scenario is this: in a postwar Britain even more austerity-gripped than the Brexiteers claim it is now, an unexploded German bomb finally explodes in a building in London’s Pimlico revealing a cellar full of treasures and, more importantly, a royal charter signed by Edward IV ceding the area to the Duke of Burgundy.
And so, just as Britain is now no longer part of Europe, Pimlico becomes no longer part of Britain. Austerity, rationing, the shortage of anything remotely worth having, daily concerns for the rest of the country, are all at an end. The new Burgundians, led by shopkeeper-cum-Prime Minister Stanley Holloway, are independent of the UK.
Unfortunately (Brexiteers take note, perhaps) independence brings with it a big immigration problem. Shoppers, spivs and chancers flood the district in the hope of making a killing. What’s more they’re stuck there because they forgot to take their passports with them and the British government, livid about losing Pimlico, won’t let them back in. A barbed wire frontier is set up around the area, a couple of hapless diplomats, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, are instructed to sort things out and, in a bid to force the Burgundians to give up, supplies like food, water and electricity are cut off.
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But none of this works. The besieged have plenty of gin and crisps to keep them going, and they show their defiance by refusing to allow a Tube train to pass through and asking the passengers if they have anything to declare. Besides, as Holloway’s wife (Betty Warren) says, the Burgundians are English and it’s because they’re English that they insist on being Burgundians, the English clearly being a people who know their rights.
All of this, and subsequent events in which sympathetic Britons try to help out, rattles along at a lively pace with the likes of Margaret Rutherford and Hermione Baddeley keeping the humour bubbling. Whether what happens on screen has much, if any, relevance to the current situation, who can say? The Brexiteers tell us we’ll be fine but then, to quote the immortal Mandy Rice-Davies, they would, wouldn’t they?
We can only hope they’re right, just as we should also hope that Europe doesn’t decide to blockade Britain as Britain blockaded Pimlico.