Based on a graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows is one of the more interesting films of the 1980’s, both in terms of its concept and the way in which it had been executed. In a time when the threat of nuclear war loomed over our shoulders, this film, made with the same team that brought you The Snowman, offered a bleak, realistic portrayal of what might have happened if the nuclear bomb were dropped.
The film tells this story through the perspective of a retired English couple. Jim and Hilda Bloggs live in a tidy cottage in rural Sussex, while Jim keeps reading the newspapers and listening to the radio to keep track of the deteriorating international situation. Much to his wife’s dismay, he prepares for the worst as instructed by the famous Protect and Survive pamphlets. Even after the bomb strikes and the fallout takes effect, the Bloggs couple remain adamant that they will survive the war as they did four decades prior.
The story starts off on a fairly calm tone, but as the film progresses, it quickly becomes a picture of stoic British optimism gradually descending into bleak pessimism, for even as Jim and Hilda continue struggling to the bitter end, their efforts merely see them waiting for the inevitable. The ending leaves what happens next to your imagination. For all we know, they may well have survived, but it’s likely that they don’t.
The film certainly takes an uncompromising approach, and it captures not only the visceral horror of what was then the hypothetical worst-case scenario, but also the human drama that is there continued perseverance, with a healthy dose of that quintessentially British “keep calm and carry on” mentality. Interestingly enough, Jim and Hilda Bloggs are the only two characters with speaking roles, and they are fittingly placed in the centre of the story.
I honestly liked these characters a lot, and it’s not because of their idealism. That’s to be expected. What I liked about them was that, no matter how misguided they may have been, they kept going until the bitter end, and they kept their cool along the way. That, to me, demonstrates a lot of character that I feel sorely needs to be promoted more in our culture. I also liked the humour and lively character that the two characters often demonstrated, and I felt that I could empathise with Jim Bloggs in some way (namely the fact that he always keeps abreast of world affairs).
The film also demonstrates a very charming style of hand-drawn animation, but I would say that it’s the darker and more experimental counterpart to The Snowman. I say this because it combines traditional hand-drawn animation with stop-motion animation (the objects in the Bloggs’ home rarely move, but are animated with stop-motion techniques when the do), and sometimes including real life footage, which adds to the bleak, sometimes haunting atmosphere that the film evokes. To add to this, the film opens in a very positive tone, to the tune of David Bowie’s song of the name (“When the Wind Blows” is a Bowie track that remains one of my personal favourites), and slowly progressing towards the bleak futility of the Bloggs’ death throes.
There have been many films that expressed the futility and horror of nuclear war, some of which were apparently shocking enough to have given people nightmares when they were new, but this film conveyed is in a way that it remains emotionally resonant. It’s a powerful and brilliant work of art that I feel is sorely underappreciated.
- Score: 85%
- Grade: A