Saturday, February 13, 2010

Old British films and political radicalism

At a charity sale this morning I found a copy of Granny Made Me an Anarchist by Stuart Christie.

Christie is an anarchist who was convicted in Spain of being involved in an attempt to assassinate General Franco and later acquitted in London of being involved with the Angry Brigade, a sort of Blue Square Premier British version of the Baader-Meinhof gang.

What interested me is the affect that old British films had on the development of Christie's political views. Early on in the book he writes:

I'll never forget the "Play for Today" production of Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy, which traced the consequences of Arthur Winslow's attempts to prove his son's innocence, after the fourteen-year old is expelled from naval college, falsely accused of stealing a five shillings postal order.

Rattigan himself called it "a drama of injustice, and of the little man's dedication to setting things right." It was gripping drama, but with all the tension of a struggle between right and wrong, law and injustice, the underdog against the high and mighty and the rights of the citizen against soulless authority.

The television production Christie saw must have been the one broadcast in 1958, but The Winslow Boy had previously been made into a film 10 years previously by Anthony Asquith (son of the Liberal prime minister).

Christie goes on to recall:

Leslie Howard's film Pimpernel Smith also made a huge impact. I didn't know it at the time, but one of the bit part actors playing the role of an anarchist prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, was later to become a lifelong friend - Albert Meltzer. Howard, a convinced anti-fascist, had insisted on using real anarchists as prisoners in one particular scene.

Apart from being a cracking good yarn about resisting Nazism, the final dark and dramatic scene at the frontier railway station on the night before the invasion of Poland literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Christie's politics are not mine, but it is reassuring to know that it is possible to get far more from these old British films than some critics tell you.

1 comment:

ceedee said...

You'd be surprised -- he's a delightful old renegade!