Director: Jimmy T. Murakami
Screenplay: Raymond Briggs
Based on a Book by: Raymond Briggs
Starring: Peggy Ashcroft, John Mills, Robin Houston
Running Time: 84 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
Raymond Briggs is what I might consider a British institution. His ‘Father Christmas’, ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’ and ‘The Snowman’ comic books/graphic novels are well known to many, aided by popular TV adaptations (the latter in particular). I read all three of those when I was young and loved them, so when I spotted another Briggs book in my local library called ‘When the Wind Blows’, I quickly snapped it up. It proved more harrowing than I expected though, coming after the charming and touching trio I’d read previously. The book has stuck in my mind ever since, but it’s not until now that I’ve watched Jimmy T. Murakami’s film adaptation, which the BFI are re-releasing on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD.
When the Wind Blows follows Jim (John Mills) and Hilda Bloggs (Peggy Ashcroft), characters from Briggs’ previous book, ‘Gentleman Jim’, as they prepare for impending nuclear war. Jim, after hearing the news, picks up a government leaflet on what to do and sets about preparing their house for the blast. Once it does happen, the couple struggle on hopelessly against the fallout.
Now The Snowman has rather a sad ending, but don’t go into Where the Wind Blows expecting tender poignancy. It’s a thoroughly bleak affair from start to finish as Jim and Hilda’s fates are clear from early on. As such, the film is a pretty tough watch and will leave you empty by the end. That’s just the point though. This is supposed to be a sort of horror film to damn the practise of nuclear war rather than a drama to tug at the heartstrings. It’s simply presented in terms of narrative and its message is loud and clear, but its impact is certainly felt.
It’s not relentlessly miserable though. There are a handful of often fantastical flashbacks and dream sequences that take us away from the couple’s plight. There’s also a thread of pitch-black humour running throughout to keep the film watchable, as Jim ticks off every bullet point in the governmental instructions, oblivious to how pointless pretty much all of them are. This provides the film’s main goal, to remind us that there’s nothing you can do to survive if you’re situated in the radius of a nuclear bomb blast. It’s a horrifying thought, but the film mines a touch of humour through displaying how people may still blindly put their trust in “the powers that be” to get them through. This may undermine the intelligence of our protagonists, a point some critics have aimed against the film, but I believe it’s a valid perspective and adds a separate element to the film’s message; the danger of accepting governmental actions without question.
Looking at the film’s presentation, director Jimmy T. Murakami (who co-directed The Snowman) employs an interesting visual style that blends filmed ‘real’ backgrounds with animated characters and objects. This gives the film a unique look that works a treat. Some interesting camera angles and movements are employed in the background photography too, testing the skills of the animators and providing some cleverly constructed sequences. The flashbacks, dream sequences and scenes filling us in on events outside the Bloggs’ home use a variety of styles too, adding further visual interest. These can seem a little dated at times, not helped by a rock soundtrack which is decent for the most part but sounds very much ‘of its time’, featuring a score by Roger Waters and tracks by artists like David Bowie and Genesis.
Overall then, it’s a tremendously bleak but necessary anti-nuclear war film that is as relevant now as ever. The unique style and black humour keep it from being unwatchably horrifying and the ‘Englishness’ of it all helps it feel painfully believable. It reminds us how it’s the simple, harmless ‘little’ people that are effected by the rash decisions made by “the powers that be” and that they, and indeed we, would be utterly helpless against such an attack.
When the Wind Blows is out now on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK, released by the BFI. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the film looks and sounds great.
There are plenty of extra features included too. Here's the list:
- Audio commentary with first assistant editor Joe Fordham and film historian Nick Redman
- Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien (2010, 77 mins): feature-length documentary about the film's director
- Interview with Raymond Briggs (2005, 14 mins): writer Raymond Briggs discusses When the Wind Blows and other works
- The Wind and the Bomb (1986, 25 mins): the making-of When the Wind Blows featuring interviews with producer John Coates, director Jimmy T Murakami and writer Raymond Briggs
- Protect and Survive (1975, 50 mins): public information film about how to survive in the event of a nuclear attack
- Isolated music and effects track
- Illustrated booklet with new introduction by Raymond Briggs, an essay by executive producer Iain Harvey, writing by Jez Stewart, Claire Kitson and Bella Todd, and full film credits
It's an impressive list of extras, but I must admit I haven’t had chance to look through all of it yet. I will at some point soon though and update my review accordingly.