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July 2011

Tawny Pipit

cast: Niall MacGinnis, Rosamund John, Bernard Miles, Jean Gillie, and Christopher Steele

directors: Bernard Miles and Charles Saunders

78 minutes (U) 1944
Odeon DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by J.C. Hartley

Tawny Pipit

A pair of rare birds breeding in a cosy rural English setting provides plenty of allegorical and metaphorical material for this propaganda drama from the tail-end of WWII.

Recuperating from the Battle of Britain, pilot Jimmy Bancroft (Niall MacGinnis) and his doting nurse Hazel (Rosamund John), discover a pair of East European rarities nesting in a meadow in Lipsbury Lea, one of those idyllic southern villages that have come to typify something to do with England. The local vicar and the fusty but good-hearted Colonel Barton-Barrington (Bernard Miles) recruit the villagers to protect the feathery visitors because, after all, England has provided sanctuary for refugees for thousands of years and some of them are jolly good chaps.

The village is visited by a clutch of ornithologists who flirt with land-girl Nancy (the rather gorgeous Jean Gillie whose career was cut short by her premature death). This offers the opportunity for some clunky old 'Britain can make it' style flag-waving, to the tune of "as long as hairdressers are prepared to get the crops in, Britain can beat the Hun." Corny as this all is, let's not forget that our cities had been pounded to a black sticky paste by the Luftwaffe and the mobilisation of the whole population for war work was essential to feed, clothe, and arm the nation. I must confess to the odd teary eye through all this but then I'm hopelessly patriotic.

However, even in the heart of England there are bad eggs, and rogue ornithologist Crasker and his associate Pickering intend to steal the Tawny Pipit's clutch. This along with army manoeuvres and small-minded committee men in the local agricultural combine, all threaten the Pipit's successful breeding.

A wonderful sequence is the visit of Russian sniper Olga, on a propaganda tour of England. This provides for the sight and sound of an English village choir singing the Internationale, and Colonel Barton-Barrington giving the clenched-fist salute, in happier and more innocent times. Land-girl Nancy embraces Olga and goes on to compare the still lush English countryside with what the Nazi invaders had done to Russia, and hoping that if England had been invaded she could have shot her own fair share of Germans.

This is a modest little picture, with honest intentions. Occasionally squirmy and a bit patronising, its message of solidarity and compassion was nevertheless right for the times. I don't know what message we need for our times, which is a pity.



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