Even though you’d be loathe to place Henry Cornelius’s beloved Passport to Pimlico into the top tier of Ealing Studio’s largely sensational cinematic output – alongside the likes of Alberto Calvalcanti’s Went the Day Well, Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets or Alexander Mackendrick’s The Man in the White Suit – it remains a ripping and ingeniously mounted British comedy that is worthy of both a cinema re-release and a (much needed) deluxe Blu-ray restoration.
Famously shot on location in a Lambeth which still bore deep structural scars from the Blitz, the film sees various members of the local community deciding to proclaim Pimlico as an independent state after locating a parchment stating that the territory in fact remains a legal adjunct of Burgundy. We then see a catalogue of political affairs, disputes and upsets that arise as a result of the denizens’ happy shift to isolationism, such as an influx of black market bootleggers (as the territory is not subject to rationing) and the severe curbing of the Underground system, which is not allowed to pass through their little state.
Though the film is played as pure farce, typified by Stanley Holloway’s manic central performance as shopkeeper-cum-diplomatic puppet master, Arthur Pemberton, it operates as an educational and sincere political allegory about the banal difficulties of running a country and the discord that personal whims can inflict onto an unsuspecting populous. England was Burgandy during the years of World War Two, and though the film does offer a celebration of unity, nostalgia and the truly English sense of unflappable national pride, there is a dark undercurrent that touches on ignorance and how easy it is to want to preserve national heritage at the expense of human happiness.
The first of a Made in Britain season in which homegrown classics are released into cinema and then onto Blu-ray.
A terribly English political satire with both barbs and belly laughs and which still stands up now.
A worthy restoration and a reminder of a (short) period when Britain were world leaders of thoughtful film comedy.