Age scene: 'The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp'
A life spent longing for a woman he will never hold for long
Friday 26 September 2008
Romance in movies tends to be the preserve of the young and good-looking. If there are seven ages of love, cinema disregards around six of them. Just occasionally, in subversive films such as Carlos Reygadas' Japon (2002) or Hal Ashby's Harold And Maude (1971), filmmakers are bold enough to show relationships between the very old and the very young. As it's often remarked, leading men have a far longer shelf life than their female counterparts (Cary Grant was still the dapper man about town in his late fifties), but age is still a taboo when it comes to screen love stories.
Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp hardly feels like a romance at all. It was made in the middle of the Second World War. The first time we see Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) he is in the bathouse a fat, pink and pompous figure with a walrus moustache who is furious that the young soldiers have "cheated" in a war game. He seems like a symbol of the British establishment at its most reactionary. That was certainly how the original Colonel Blimp appeared in the David Low newspaper cartoons that partly inspired Powell and Pressburger.
Winston Churchill didn't care for the film at all. The Ministry of Information thought the script was "defeatist" and bad propaganda. Seen today, though, the film appears to be an extraordinarily moving love story. Clive Candy wasn't just the heroic young soldier with the Victoria Cross from the Boer War who had somehow turned into a blustering fogey by the time of the Second World War. He was one of the great romantics of British movies. What adds such resonance to the film is that having lost his one true love as a young man, he spends the rest of his life looking for her. As an old man, he is still as besotted with her as ever but she remains unattainable.
Deborah Kerr (in a role originally intended for Wendy Hiller) plays three different roles in the movie. When we first see her, she is Edith Hunter, the English governess who breaks his young heart by marrying his best friend, the German officer, Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). Next, we see her as Barbara Wynne, the Red Cross nurse he meets and marries during the First World War, but loses to an accident.
Finally, she is Candy's young driver, Angela "Johnny" Canyon, during the Second World War. The casting of Kerr in all three roles was a very bold decision. After all, this was ostensibly a wartime British propaganda picture, not a Last Year at Marienbad-style piece of experimentalism. Her presence gives the film its uncanny quality and its melancholic undertow. She stays young while Candy grows older, but his attitude toward her doesn't change at all with age. She represents his romantic ideal. He knows all along that he will never be able to hold on to her at least, not for long.
There are, though, at least a few fleeting moments of happiness along the way, notably when Livesey and Kerr prepare for their wedding and finally share a kiss.
Life & Style blogs
Alexander McQueen at auction: What makes a really great piece of fashion?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
No female ejaculation, please, we’re British: a history of porn and censorship
Stressed nurses are 'forced to choose between health of patients and their own'
Pornhub: Kim Kardashian's sex tape is the most-watched porn video of all-time
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...