Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Passport op Pimlico revisited

I watched for the umpteenth time Passport to Pimlico  the highly enjoyable but preposterous 1949 film which I first saw as a 10 year old in theatre with the “aunties”. This Michael Balcon film can be now regarded as attempt to bolster the flagging wartime spirit of Joe public in the face of the continuing austerity of rationing and large chunks of remaining blitzed London, although it was based on a true incident when during World War 2 the child of Princess Juliana of the Netherlands would not have been able to claim the throne if born outside her home land so that the Canadian Government passed a special law making her room in the maternity hospital part of the Netherlands. The film stars Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford and the young Barbara Murray together with a young Charles Haughtry of subsequent Carry On fame, Raymond Huntley as the creative Bank Manager and that fine actor John Slater, also with James Hayter, Arthur Denton, Michael Horden Sydney Tafler, Sam Kidd and Hermoine Baddeley.

The people living in heavily bombed Pimlico close to Victoria Station struggle to cope with  the prolonged summer heat wave and the rationing surrounded by bombed buildings in the middle of which there is an unexploded bomb to be made safe. However the unit  announces is has been told to move to another site and that the bomb will be detonated via a small explosion advising everyone to take precautions.  Before this a group of young lads messing about with a large tyre fail to take proper control and it runs into the mine  trench hole and detonates fortunately without injury to anyone, Stanley Holloway goes to investigate, falls down and thinks he sees treasure, which is laughed at by his wife but not by his daughter, Barbara Murray, when she realises that he has brought up a gold coin. They investigate and find a huge  haul of coin and silver plate which is removed to the safe keeping of  the Bank where the manager, a local man, is under fire from  his headquarters because of his policy of granting loans to help out local shopkeepers and businesses. He is to be moved.

The find is reported to the government who seek to take control when the question of ownership is determined at  an Inquest. Margaret Rutherford plays the expert who  upon examining  a document found in casket by Holloway as well as portrait of a nobleman reveals  that not only is the treasure of the French House of Burgundy who lived in the area when exiled but the document grants ownership of the land to the Duke and his descendents and as it is understood he died without an heir the Treasure  belongs to the those born  in the area  covered by the Royal Warrant who technically are Burgundians with the implications that British laws and taxes do not apply. This leads to the locals to tear up their ration books and identity cards, keep the pub open all hours and plan how they will spend the money on a lido for the children on the bomb site. Huntley declares UDI for his bank.

The area becomes besieged by out of area traders in what has becomes free zone leading the residents having a change of mind about  their impendence when the police explain they cannot intervene. However the position changes again when it is revealed that the Duke had a son and his descendent arrives to claim treasure and his Dukedom, or at least to support the local people when the government tightens the screws and impose a customs post. The local retaliate by stopping the passing Underground trains which in turns leads to the water being cut off. The children are evacuated but residents manage to turn the water back on illicitly however the problem is that the basement is flooded where the food was being stored for the communal meals and it appears they have no alternative but to surrender and leave the area or give up the treasure. The children on seeing a newsreel use their pocket money to buy bread rolls which they pass over the barrier to their families which leads to other passers by doing the same and when the word spreads by radio and press everyone joins in to provide the community with  more than sufficient supplies to keep them going Naughton Wayne and Basil Rathbone on behalf of the government are forced to negotiate a settlement in which the money is given to the Treasury as capital but the community benefits from the interest which gets them their Lido. The Duke and Barbara Murray fall in love

The classic line in the film is We’ve always been English, and we’ll always be English and its precisely because we are English that we’re sticking for the right to be Burgundians.”


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