PASSPORT TO PIMLICO
Passport to Pimlico was inspired by a true incident during World War II when the Dutch royal family was forced to flee to Canada after the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. In 1943, the Princess (later Queen) Juliana was pregnant with Princess Margriet. In order for Margriet to be born a Dutch royal, the Canadian parliament had to pass a decree that temporarily made the maternity ward of an Ottawa hospital Dutch soil for the duration of the birth. A further part of the films inspiration came from the Berlin Airlift. In 1948, as part of the escalating tensions with the West, the Soviets blocked off road and rail access to West Berlin, leaving the entire city with only a months supply of food and fuel. The British and Americans allies responded by airlifting some 5000-8000 tons of food and supplies in every day over eleven months between mid 1948 and 1949. This is something that lends clear satiric inspiration to the latter scenes in Passport to Pimlico where the Londoners flaunt the blockade imposed on Pimlico by throwing supplies, even parachuting pigs, over the barricade.
Out of these ideas, T.E.B. Clarke, a regular writer of Ealings comedies, spins a charming whimsy. Like some of the best science-fiction, Clarke takes a simple idea the idea of a London suburb becoming a separate country and spins it out to perfectly logical extremes. The way that Clarke keeps piling spins atop the premise makes the film a considerable joy. There is a perfect drollness in the battles with officialdom and the ingenious simplicity of solutions that the Burgundians manage to come up with every time. Bubbling not far beneath, the film relishes in an amusingly subversive streak in the idea of the little folks constantly outwitting lumbering bureaucratic officialdom. It is delivered with enormous panache.
Director Henry Cornelius moves without missing a step, unafraid of silliness in throwing in shots of parachuted pigs or one charming shot that follows the toss of a newspaper through the air and down into the bomb crater and the waiting bomb squad men. There is a perfect deadpan drollness to the film like the charming scenes where it is proposed everyone deal with the water shortages by bathing in alcohol, or the courtroom scenes where every parent tries to get their child to admit to rolling the tire into the crater. Everyone present is a delight, with many of the scenes being stolen by the perpetually eccentric Margaret Rutherford as an academic expert.
Passport to Pimlico is also very much a product of its times with its picture of the post-War British economy dominated by rationing, shortages and blackmarketeers, where the London landscape is littered with unexploded bombs from the German Blitz, and a cheerful West End folksiness overcoming all odds. It is hard to imagine that the film could ever have been made at any other time.