The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Powell and Pressburger’s 1943 masterpiece arrives in a spanking restored version, ripe for rediscovery if you’re a fan, or demanding to be discovered if you’ve never seen it. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is the comedic, romantic and epic story of General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) that kicks off at the height of WWII, before flashing back 40 years to his adventures as a young officer.
In Berlin in 1902 his involvement in a duel with a German officer, Theo (Anton Wolbrook), leads to the pair becoming lifelong friends, even though Theo marries the girl (Deborah Kerr) whom Candy realises too late he’s in love with.
Racing through the First World War and beyond, with Kerr playing three different women in the three timelines, it’s a beautifully observed character piece about a man who refuses to change with the times, who still believes in a war fought by gentlemen.
With its glorious Technicolor photography, ravishing production design and costumes, it’s quite stunning to look at, but that’s just gravy. The range of the wit and humour on offer is remarkable, in a film that can be droll, satirical, farcical and sometimes just plain silly. Colourful characters blustering about can give it the air of a farce, but while it can work as an indictment of colonial warmongering and military incompetence, this isn’t dwelt upon.
It’s sweeping yet intimate and for a near three-hour film, it moves at a fair old lick, anchored by a quite astonishing performance from Livesey, who brings remarkable range, passion and warmth to all the iterations of Candy. Spanning his 20s to his 60s, the combination of makeup and prosthetics used to age him has quite frankly never been bettered.
Colonel Blimp underwent a painstaking digital restoration recently, and the results are magnificent. Colours pop and detail is fine, and you’re not going to find a better example of a 70 year old film on DVD. Just imagine how good the Blu-ray must look.
A tasteful doc that looks like it probably dates from the mid 90s (judging by how slim Stephen Fry is) takes us through the production of the film in insightful detail, with contributions from Pressburger’s grandson Kevin Macdonald and cinematographer Jack Cardiff, as well as various well informed historians. There’s also a fine restoration piece hosted by Martin Scorsese that shows how the manky old print was cleaned up frame by frame, and text biographies of all the main players.