O'Neil, Esther, Margaret (2006) BRITISH WORLD WAR TWO FILMS 1945-65: CATHARSIS OR NATIONAL REGENERATION? Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Major differences in British Second World War films produced in wartime 1939-45 (idealising the 'People's War') and post-war versions produced between 1945-65 (promoting the return of elite masculinity) suggest a degree of cultural re-conditioning concerning the memory of war, by Britain's middle-class film-makers attuned to national and international concerns. Therefore, the focus and main aim of this thesis is to identify and examine previously ignored or inadequately scrutinized themes within the post-war genre to explain how, and why, film-makers redefined the Second World War and its myths, tapping deeply into the national psyche, stimulating and satisfying a voracious, continuing, British appetite. In examining the genre, and as established by historians such as John O'Connor, Pierre Sorlin and Jeffrey Richards, this thesis employs contextual analysis, using feature film as a primary historical documentary source. This involves close reading of the films in their historical and political context and the social situation which produced them - backed-up by empirical data, analysing what film-makers were saying at textual and sub-textual levels, and exploring structure, meaning and iconography as conveyed by script, image, acting and direction. The production, content and reception of these films have been evaluated and attention directed towards dialogue and language. In support of this, a wide variety of sources have been scrutinized: articles; fan magazines; novels; biographies; autobiographies; memoirs, film histories and wider historical and political works. The BFI Library and Special Collections Archive have been extensively mined with particular emphasis on press and campaign books and cinema ephemera. Newspapers and journals such as the Times, the New Statesman, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Worker have provided a range of perspectives.
A sense of British ownership of this war pervades the genre. Accordingly, this thesis identifies four over-arching themes through which to explore it: the fusion of class, masculinity and national identity; women and femininity; reconciliation with the enemy; and the process of personal and national redemption and regeneration through the war experience. The study's fundamental originality rests in its approach. In offering a "political" (in its widest sense) reading of the films and an untried level of detailed analysis, it presents the genre's first full conceptualisation, challenging criticisms and assumptions that the genre was either a nostalgic replay of the Second World War, a recruitment vehicle or a catharsis. Several key findings have emerged from this thesis: Elite masculinity was used, not to devalue the 'People's War', but as exemplar of national identity, regeneration and British leadership. Recognizable through his metamorphosis from literature's well-loved pre-1914 imperialist hero, the officer hero was now a democratised master of the technology provided by Britain's brilliant, unthreatening scientists. Through them, Britain's unrivalled experience as a world leader was promoted at a time of international tensions and challenges to national supremacy. This study offers the first in-depth analysis of the prisoner-of-war sub-genre, and recognizes film-makers' efforts to ensure that serving homosexuals were also credited with fighting the Second World War. Crucially, far from being airbrushed from the genre, women were very definitely present and active in war films post-1945. Previously unsuspected balances, continuities and cross-overs between the 193945 films and of those of 1945-65 have been identified. Received wisdom that, with Cold War political pragmatism, the genie offered only revisionist depictions of Germany is also challenged. Evidence of film-makers' Janus-faced ambivalence towards German brutality and collective guilt has emerged and, whilst the Italians were redeemed, Japanese barbarism was vehemently expressed. Through its exploration of war's dysfunctional residue, this thesis has shown that combat dysfunction acted as 'heroic reinforcement', yet another way to praise, whilst allowing modest fallibility. Further insights into reactions to war were provided by depictions of malingers, revellers and those redeemed by war.
British cinema offered a rare level of social comment with the homecoming legacy, as dysfunction embraced disaffected officers, crime and the failure of the 'New Jerusalem'— although it offered little on failed repatriation. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, film-makers also showed that middle-class hegemony, always pragmatic, was elastic enough to offer critiques of officer elite heroics with the decline of deference, and to be more open in its depictions of women. These findings demonstrate that as a collection of primary documents, the genre's films reveal much about contemporaneous issues. Significantly, although its target audience was British youth, it reached global audiences.

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