May 20, 2015

Review: Listen to Britain (1942)

With Listen to Britain, I'm going out pretty far from my usual fare when it comes to the short films I've been watching lately. Why would I want to watch a mid-World War II British propaganda film? Well besides my personal quest to watch whatever comes my way, Listen to Britain is listed in some pretty prestigious film lists like They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? as well as Sight and Sound's top films from a poll in 2012. LtB appears to be one of the greatest films ever made in the UK, so that's reason enough no?


At a Glance

Genre: documentary, short
Directed by: Humphrey Jennings, Stewart McAllister
Produced by: Ian Dalrymple
Written by: Humphrey Jennings, Stewart McAllister
Music by: N/A
Running time: 20 minutes
Production company: Crown Film Unit
Distributed by: Crown Film Unit
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English, German
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Chesney Allen, Bud Flanagan, Leonard Brockington, Myra Hess, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother



During the tough wartime effort, Britain has a heartbeat. Composed of every train, of every Spitfire flying overhead, of every worker and of every soldier defending their country, it's heard loud and clear in this documentary. 


Listen to Britain was probably very unobtrusive when it comes to propaganda back in the day, but it's pretty obvious to anyone watching it today. While showing farm and city life, LtB cuts to footage of soldiers and military things in general which definitely shows the intentions of Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister. If there was any doubt, the American release (which is the one I watched) has a foreward spoken by Leonard Brockington that announces as much and it's actually pretty majestic sounding.

A powerful picture of Britain is painted with all the imagery and sound that Jennings and McAllister put together. It's an effort that strikes me as a bit clumsy in this day and age, but it's still a pretty impressive experiment. Some of the scenes where soldiers are singing for example seem a bit awkward and forced, but not everyone can be an ace in front of a camera. A Chesney Allen and Bud Flanagan performance also features some pretty off-key whistling from the audience, but that could also be the general age of the film affecting the sound a bit.

Even with just sound and imagery, there's still a climax and this where this documentary really proves its worth. A sort of symphony from hell composed of machinery starts up and goes on for a while before transforming into "Rule Britannia" that actually made me feel very English and very patriotic for a few seconds. To me, that alone is incredible and I can just imagine the impact that the film must've had on certain UK citizens at the time.

Listen to Britain is a victim of age as many things are, but I still came out pretty impressed with what could be considered as nothing else but propaganda. It's a little bit more than just that though. It's an attempt at being experimental and that's always something that I appreciate. Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister definitely deserve some credit for playing with the hearts of their countrymen with something other than plain old repetition anyway.



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