In Passport to Pimlico the detonation of a Second World War bomb in Pimlico uncovers evidence that the neighbourhood was annexed by, and remains a part of, Burgundy. It dawns on the locals that the dreary rationing regulations no longer apply to them, as they declare independence, and the area is permanently en fête.
Whitehall is not best pleased and Pimlico is ring-fenced and under siege. The newly dubbed Burgundians become a national cause célèbre but eventually order is restored and Pimlico is readmitted to Britain.
This is a great movie, an exuberant cry against austerity and bureaucracy in a Britain which had elected, by a landslide, a reformist Labour government and then watched it crumble through revisionism, timidity and in-fighting. ‘Tibby’ Clarke’s script, with its shrewd political underpinning, was nominated for an Oscar while Henry Cornelius was a first-time director whose orchestration of a large ensemble never prevented deft touches. He only completed five features, of which his greatest hit was Genevieve, before his early death at 45.
Made by Ealing at the height of the studio’s powers Passport To Pimlico works because it revives that deep sense of wartime camaraderie, yet it also expressed the healthy scepticism that had invaded British social life since the war. The flavour of the film is nicely caught in the sentiment delivered by Connie Pemberton, played by Betty Warren: “We always were English and we always will be English and it’s just because we’re English we’re sticking out for our right to be Burgundians.”
UK / 1949 / Ealing black and white
Director: Henry Cornelius
Cast: Stanley Holloway, Betty Warren, Margaret Rutherford, John Slater, Barbara Murray