There honestly couldn't have been a better time for a BFI release of Raymond Briggs' peculiar disaster film When the Wind Blows. Briggs is well known for the enchanting yuletide fable The Snowman and similarly sweet short film Santa Clause, yet When the Wind Blows is a significantly darker cautionary tale released slap-bang between the two in 1986. In it, an old couple deal with the ramifications of nuclear war from their ‘cosy country home’.
After the delight of The Snowman, When the Wind Blows must have come as a shock: it's an angry, highly political, film about the dangers of nostalgic nationalism. Director Jimmy T. Murakami proves a dab-hand at investing our attention in a familiar sleepy British atmosphere, then bulldozing it to the ground. So much of this film works because of how well the British fairy tale is constructed.
First off, the casting couldn't be any more perfect. Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India) and John Mills (Tunes of Glory, Ryan's Daughter) lend venerable weight and Brit-centric star power to their respective archetypes. The blending of drawn and constructed elements is playfully involving, whilst the live-action prologue (edited to David Bowie's 'When the Wind Blows' no less) sets this up as a more ‘real’ experience than perhaps expected. The same cosy disarming style that made The Snowman a perennial Christmas staple, is used to lure us in, disarm, and then assault us with harsh reality.
What begins as a comfy film about an old (if stubborn) British couple in their twilight years becomes a scathing attack on apathy. Even whilst the two succumb, quite gruellingly, to radiation poisoning, they keep calm and carry on, failing to grasp the ramifications of nuclear fallout. Made in the 80s with a particular eye to US/Russia tensions, When the Wind Blows dives under the skin of the public's relationship with war, especially the generation who grew up during WW1 or WW2.
The two doddery old folks yearn for the days of the Great War: when the good guys were easily distinguishable from the bad: good vs evil in an old-timey British bulldog kind of way. For the modern viewer, it will be stupid at best, depressing at worst. Perhaps even gross, especially in 2018. It's a blistering attack on nostalgia in all its forms and for the post-Trump/Brexit world it's disturbingly on-point.
So yes, When the Wind Blows has never been more appropriate. And its cultural impact has been overlooked for too long, something this release does its utmost to readdress via a dense package of revealing special features. Show it to the retrospective dreamer in your family for max effect.
WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (1986) / DIRECTOR: JIMMY T. MURAKAMI / SCREENPLAY: RAYMOND BROOKS / STARRING: JOHN MILLS, PEGGY ASHCROFT, ROBIN HOUSTON, JAMES RUSSELL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW