Pimlico's Independence Day

Blimey, I'm a foreigner - P.C. Spiller

Stanley Holloway, Betty Warren and Barbara Murray in Passport to Pimlico (1949)

With the current British Government enforcing budget cuts on the UK you couldn't blame anyone for feeling a bit cheesed off and wishing for a bit of land independent from the rest of the UK and the interference of the government. So with that in mind there is no better time than now to watch the classic Ealing comedy "Passport to Pimlico" with its humorous tale of Pimlico in London declaring independence after historical documents are discovered but then finding out that independence isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's an amusing idea and "Passport to Pimlico" is an amusing movie which will have you smiling from start to finish and although at times borders on the corny the amusing performances from recognizable British stars such as Stanley Holloway, Barbara Murray, Charles Hawtrey and Margaret Rutherford make it so much fun to watch.

When an unexploded WWII bomb is accidentally detonated by a group of kids, not only is a treasure trove revealed but also ancient documents which state that what is now Pimlico is in fact part of Burgundy and technically a foreign country. Delighted at their new found freedom the residents rip up their ration books and start doing things their way. But they soon discover that independence is not all that it's cracked up to be when the UK government get tough on them, cutting off their supplies and enforcing passport controls to get in and out of Pimlico.

I will say that "Passport to Pimlico" starts a bit slowly as it goes about setting up the emotions of the times as in post war Britain not only are there unexploded bombs to be dealt with but people are forced to use ration books to buy stuff. And at the centre of this is shopkeeper Arthur Pemberton who wants to have a Lido built in Pimlico but has his ideas rejected by the authorities. In a way it does a decent job of setting up the era and with the addition of a heat wave going on it is amusing if a little slow.

Charles Hawtrey and Jane Hylton in Passport to Pimlico (1949)

But the real storyline is the discovery of not only ancient treasure but an important document which states that Pimlico belongs to Burgundy when a bomb is accidentally detonated. What follows can be summed up as the disgruntled residents of Pimlico declaring independence from the UK and ignoring any of the laws as they have freedom. So we get the pub opening when it likes, people charging what they like for goods and ration books being ripped up as the residents declare themselves Burgundians. All of which is highly amusing especially as you get the UK authorities becoming exasperated by the flagrant abuse of laws by those who live in Pimlico especially as other people swarm to it as black goods are sold freely on the streets.

Of course that's not the end of it and the residents discover that independence isn't all it's cracked up to be as the British Government makes life difficult for them. So we watch as they run out of water, have to ration their own food and even go through passport control if they want to leave. All of which is done in a wonderfully amusing way as we watch the residents try to take control of matters which include a humorous scene where they attempt to steal water from across the barb wire border. And that is the thing about "Passport to Pimlico" it's all very amusing, not necessary laugh out loud funny but humorous enough to slap a big smile across your face from start to finish. Even when then ending comes along, which watching it now feels a bit of a cop out, it still manages to make you smile.

The thing which makes "Passport to Pimlico" work is the variety of characters from Stanley Holloway as shop keeper Arthur Pemberton, Barbara Murray as his beautiful daughter Shirley through to Philip Stainton as the local police man. They are all stereotypes but in being so are all amusing especially when these average people find themselves having to form their own government which gives us one of "Passport to Pimlico" funniest scenes. I wouldn't say that anyone really delivers a brilliant performance just they all work together to create a perfect ensemble comedy.

What this all boils down to is that "Passport to Pimlico" maybe over 60 years old but is still great fun and worth a watch as the UK Government inflict belt tightening measures on the population. What makes it work are the range of stereotypical characters that become funny as they are thrown into positions of power as well as the battle to keep Pimlico independent from the rest of the UK.