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When The Wind Blows
voice cast: John Mills, Peggy Ashcroft, Robin Houston, James Russell, and David Dundas

director: Jimmy T. Murakami

80 minutes (PG) 1986
Channel 4 DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Tom Johnstone
When The Wind Blows began life as a graphic novel by the acclaimed children's author and illustrator, Raymond Briggs. While it is definitely not a children's story, stylistically and thematically it echoes some of his best-known books like Father Christmas and Fungus The Bogeyman. Both of these follow a working class man on his arduous working day, albeit in a fantasised setting. As the DVD's interview with Briggs shows, he drew on his memories of his parents for these stories. For example, his dad was a milkman, one of whom we see greeting Father Christmas on his rounds. In When The Wind Blows, the couple's surname Bloggs - though generic - even echoes Briggs' own, but their situation is different. They are pensioners, facing the onslaught of a nuclear holocaust, armed only with an outdated view of war based on their experience of the Blitz. Perhaps because of his closeness to these characters, the comedy drawn from their naivety, though black, is never mean or cruel.

Jimmy T. Murakami's animated film of the story was released at a time when paranoia about the imminence of a nuclear war was at its height. It wasn't the only film about the aftermath of such an attack, but it is interesting to compare it to others such as the BBC's Threads (1984), which was unremittingly bleak and grim. Not only does When The Wind Blows focus on the loveable misconceptions of the sweet old couple that are its protagonists, it breaks up the story of their gradual exposure to radiation poisoning with dreamlike fantasy sequences, although these are probably hallucinations brought about by that very sickness. Shots of windmills ominously underlines the role of the titular wind, which carries the deadly radiation from the population centres at the epicentre of the explosion, to Jim and Hilda Bloggs' rural idyll. Their isolation in this cottage makes their predicament more poignant and goes some way towards accounting for their inability to grasp the reality of the situation facing them.

Casting-wise the film boasts the voices of two of the UK's most venerated actors, John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft as Jim and Hilda in one what is basically a two-hander. We see virtually no other characters; and only hear the radio announcer giving the three-minute warning and Jim's son on the phone laughing at his dad's pedantic reliance on the 'inner core or refuge'. The Bloggs' son 'Ron' is of course Raymond Briggs himself, poking fun at a couple, who cherish nostalgic memories of the Second World War, but haven't a clue what's about to hit them. Although this is a comparatively light-hearted look at World War III, it is still makes for pretty harrowing viewing, and it signals its political engagement with some pre-credits documentary footage from Greenham Common. Its mixture of two-dimensional and three-dimensional animation techniques also adds visual depth to the film. You can find out more about this technique on the accompanying featurette The Wind And The Bomb - The Making Of When The Wind Blows.
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