• Children of Men

Five films to Brexit by

John Bleasdale | 30 Mar 2017

Worried about the UK's future post-Brexit? Never fear. Movies can show us the way

The letter has been delivered. Article 50 has been triggered. Theresa May issued her statement to parliament. Nigel Farage has triumphed. So whether you are a disconsolate Remainer, or a jubilant Brexiteer, here are five films to help you understand and negotiate our post-Brexit future.

Passport to Pimlico

When an unexploded bomb goes off in London, a treasure trove is uncovered, which includes a document showing that the borough of Pimlico is actually an independent Duchy of Burgundy where Britain has no legal jurisdiction. Freed from post-war rationing, the residents at first take full advantage of their new-found independence.

Released in 1949 – the annus mirabilis of Ealing Studios – Passport to Pimlico was a lighthearted reaction to the austerity that made many Britons feel that they had somehow lost the war. At once a microcosm and re-enactment of the Blitz spirit, with Londoners banding together to help each other out against a bullying state, it also revealed the silliness of littlest of little Britain – even if paradoxically that British spirit of doughty independence is expressed as something foreign. Stanley Holloway and pals are even credited as Burgundians and Margaret Rutherford et al as British. All is finally resolved with a street party and, that most British of conclusions, a heavy downpour of rain.

Children of Men

From the light to the dark. Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 adaptation of P.D. James’s novel offers a bleakly dystopian view of a post-collapse Britain marked by literal sterility, a seemingly endless war on terror and ferocious xenophobia. Women can’t have babies anymore and Clive Owen’s rumpled Theo is slouching towards the extinction of the species, cushioned by booze and cynicism, when ex-wife Julianne Moore calls on him to help a group of Christian freedom fighters/terrorists transport a ‘fugee’ (refugee) to the coast. On the way, the landscape scrolls past as a diorama of political woes, from piles of burning cattle to Abu Ghraib-style detention centres.

Ultra-patriotism and a crumbling world order means that all refugees – including Europeans – are treated with the same contempt, herded into cages and ghettos. Here they fight it out in a compilation of all wartorn environments brought home. Two years previous, Cuarón had come up with the darkest, most drizzly Harry Potter and here Britain has never appeared so bleak and small-minded, with only what WH Auden called the occasional “ironic points of light” – Danny Huston’s hopeless art collector, Michael Caine’s hippy/political cartoonist and Theo himself – offering uncertain lumination. Seeming more prescient with each passing year, Children of Men might well foretell the EU collapse and a Trump-triggered World War 3 along with the atmosphere of post-Brexit Britain.

Braveheart

The Scottish Parliament has voted to go ahead with a second referendum, citing the Brexit decision as materially changing the conditions that pertained to the first referendum. Anyone who has watched New York-born Australian Mel Gibson’s paean to Scottish Nationalism will know that Scottish independence isn’t won in the first battle. Or indeed the second. Or the third, no matter how many naked bums you wag at the southerners. The perfidious English – led by Patrick McGoohan’s aridly psychopathic Edward Longshanks – are not going to give up Scotland without a fight to the death, or if it works better, bribing the Scots to do the fighting among themselves.

Mel’s Wallace reveals himself to be a true pro-European by engaging in a European Union of his own with Princess Isabella of France (Sophie Marceau), not only conversing fluently in French but impregnating her with a Scottish-French progeny who will ascend to the throne as Edward III. Whether the second referendum overturns the first or not is yet to be seen, but having fought their own referendum on the issue of sovereignty, the Brexiteers risk looking like hypocrites if they deny the same to those north of Hadrian’s Wall. And for those of the moral fibre of Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, such hypocrisy would surely be insupportable.

A Bridge Too Far

The cardinal achievement of the European Union thus far has been undeniably in preventing a major European war. The last one dominated British screens for years, especially in the first three decades following the end of the conflict. From The Dam Busters to Escape to Victory, the Brits have been parachuting, bouncing-bombing, cockleshell-heroing and winning football matches about the continent to the benefit of freedom-loving peoples everywhere. Richard Attenborough’s 1977 epic is one of the best, primarily because it focuses on that quintessential aspect of the British idea of heroism: the heroic cock-up. (It’s the reason, incidentally, why Nelson gets a column and Wellington gets a boot.)

Operation Market Garden was a plan to advance on European territory, defeat the Germans and bring the war to an end, but the flaw is right in the title. With a huge international cast and truly breathtaking pre-CGI grandeur, Attenborough’s film is also gloriously cynical about the idiocy and vanity of the commanders and the needless sacrifice of the men. A beautiful moment of British phlegm is exhibited when, following a murderous attack has decimated the Allied ranks, the Germans offer to talk surrender: “We’d really like to, but we don’t have the facilities to take you all prisoner,” comes the reply. The irony is well played but comes as cold comfort in the end.

Don’t Look Now

And finally, who needs Europe anyway? The place can give you the creeps. Those budget flights to Venice (Treviso) for example. You think you’re going for a relaxing weekend and then The Comfort of Strangers happens to you and it isn’t nice. Or better still, watch Nicolas Roeg’s classic horror film Don’t Look Now. A wintry Venice welcomes Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie’s recently bereaved couple: John and Laura Baxter. He’s an architect, restoring one of the oldest churches in Venice while Laura has befriended a pair of psychic sisters who claim they see Christine, the Baxters' drowned daughter. To make things worse, a serial killer is prowling the alleyways and the police are pulling corpses from the canals.

If you watch A Room with a View or Mamma Mia, you’d be persuaded that the sunshine of the Mediterranean will melt the English cold and sure enough we are treated to one of the sexiest sex scenes ever committed to celluloid. But the creepy damp foreignness of the old continent – with weird bishops and untrustworthy policemen – has never been so chillingly evoked. Chances are, post-Brexit, you won’t be able to afford that jaunt anymore (those budget airlines rely on European subsidies) and so happily you’ll be protected from red-coated figures running through the night.

Follow John Bleasdale on Twitter at @drjonty

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