“PASSPORT TO PIMLICO”— A Political Satire


A Political Satire

Amos Lassen

Director Henry Cornelius’ “Passport to Pimlico” is about what happens  when an accidental explosion of an undetonated WWII German bomb unearths a buried cellar containing riches and an unknown royal charter from King Edward IV that cedes the surrounding land to the last Duke of Burgundy. This turns the town of Pimlico upside down. Since the charter has never been rescinded, the London district of Pimlico is now legally the long-lost Duchy of Burgundy, and therefore no longer subject to British law (including postwar rationing and pub closure hours). The local residents are quick to understand the opportunities and do their best to take full advantage of the situation.  

It is somewhat contradictory that this a timeless film that is very time specific. While the film rooted in a very particular period just after the Second World War, it’s about ideas and a belief in the little guy that’s as easy to get behind today as it was when the film was released in 1949.

Because all of the residents of Pimlico are now foreigners, they don’t have to abide by the privations of late 40s life, such as rationing. However the British Government soon begins to realize this, decides to set up border controls and eventually begins a blockade of the area.

This is a sweet story that has faith in a shared humanity with great performances by wonderful actors like Stanley Holloway, Hermione Baddeley and Margaret Rutherford, and a very witty script. The most interesting thing is that as well as being a funny, well written and paced film, it’s also a window into a very particular moment in British history (although as mentioned looking at it in timeless ways).

Before the bomb, we can really feel the frustration of the population. These are people who spent years willingly going without because they were told it would help win the war, and now several years after peace was declared, they’re still having to put up with major privations. They want a sense of victory and for normality to return to everyday life. It was daring for “Passport To Pimlico” to equate the British Government’s authoritarian attitude with that of Soviet Russia, but it did it with such charm and belief in people power that it got away with it and was a major hit.

This newly restored version hits Blu-ray with a picture that’s been expertly cleaned to remove major blemishes and scratches that have built up over the years. There’s still some grain, but that’s how it should be and the black and white picture looks as it should.

This political satire reflects the rebuilding of political structures and economic recovery in Europe after the devastation of World War II. Even a small group of people who organize themselves for action can be a movement that challenges a big government.

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