Britain in the 1940s: Film and Literature

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Course Information
Film Studies
Terms offered: 
Spring, Summer
Language of instruction: 

“The Second World War had more influence on British national identity than any other event in history” (Richard Weight, Patriots, p. 116).  The 1940s are also often reckoned to be the golden decade of British cinema.  This course explores the contribution of film (fiction and documentary) to the reconstruction of national identity, and compares it with the roles played by other media.  For example, activity in cinema was paralleled in literature by fiction and essay-writing.  Indeed, literature and film sometimes enjoyed very close relationships, as, for example, in Graham Greene’s film criticism and screenplays, and in Dylan Thomas’s poetic screenplays for wartime documentaries.

The course will involve a mixed programme of full length feature films and documentaries from the period. There will be a particular focus on the work of Lean, Powell and Pressburger and Jennings.  Among the writers to be studied will be George Orwell, Graham Greene, and Keith Douglas.  Reportage will also be studied, as will extracts from records of the Mass Observation project, and examination of the wartime role of radio broadcasting.  In visual culture there will be a particular focus on photography – especially work published in national magazines such as Picture Post.

This course offers an interdisciplinary approach to the study of cultural history – as well as offering an opportunity to engage to in critical analysis of a variety of works of cinema, literature and the visual arts.

The course therefore aims:

  • to explore cinematic, literary and other forms of creative response to the Second World War and its immediate aftermath;
  • to pursue this study contextually in order to establish interdisciplinary links between films, literature and other works;
  • to consider the relation of art and propaganda, as well as other questions of representation and ideological construction;
  • critically to examine images and myths of Britain in the 1940s by reference to films, literature and other media.