When an unexploded WWII bomb is accidentally detonated in Pimlico, an area of London, it reveals a treasure trove and documents proving that the region is, in fact part of Burgundy, France and thus foreign territory. The British Government attempt to regain control by setting up border controls and cutting off services to the area. The 'Burgundians' fight back... Running Time: 84 Minutes
MPAA Ratings: G
Passport to Pimlico is a whimsical comedy that fitted the mood of its day. The idea for the plot came from a news item spotted by Tibby Clarke which stated that during the war, in order that a rule be observed whereby members of the Dutch royal succession must be born on Netherlands soil, a room in Ottawa, where the family was in exile from the German occupation, officially became Dutch territory. The film is set in the inner London district of Pimlico, a few narrow streets hemmed in by railway lines and busy main roads, where a delayed bomb explosion reveals a hidden vault containing treasure and an ancient document proving that the land was granted to the Duke of Burgundy in perpetuity.
So the inhabitants of this cockney parish suddenly find that officially they are Burgundians. As the realisation sinks in that they are no longer subject to the strict laws of austerity England, they are gripped with a wild sense of liberation. The local pub stays open as long as it likes with the constable's blessing, the bank manager sequestrates the reserves in defiance of head office, the dressmaker refuses to acknowledge clothing coupons. Suddenly a grubby set of London backstreets becomes a continental paradise, with sidewalk cafes and unlimited export goods in the shops. Whitehall reacts by closing the 'frontier' and imposing strict currency control and customs inspections on anyone attempting to cross. Soon Pimlico-Burgundy is under siege, blockaded by officialdom, but its defiant stand is supported by other Londoners who hurl food supplies across the barbed wire barricades.
Ultimately Pimlico is readmitted to the United Kingdom, and the relieved inhabitants sit down to a celebratory feast consisting of food rationed according to the law, with a brand new ration book and identity card at every place setting. It is a return to normal after an excursion into the unfamiliar, and perhaps a warning that Britons are not ready for the delights of continental-style emancipation while there is still hard work to do at home. To have ended it otherwise in 1949 would have affronted the sensibilities of the audience, for they, whatever the Burgundians could do, still had to face the rigours of British austerity. It is all right to fantasise but ultimately there is a price to be paid. As reinforcement of this message, at the very moment of readmission to the United Kingdom the heavens open, the heat-wave is over, and a down pour sends everyone scurrying for shelter, with the exception of a 'Keep Fit' fanatic who had been seen at intervals through the film, and who now delightedly removes his sweater and exults in the rain.
The casting of Passport to Pimlico, while using many familiar Ealing faces, is particularly happy. The genial grocer, Pemberton (Stanley Holloway), is admirably contrasted with the timid, precise bank manager, Wix (Raymond Huntley), while outsiders include a delightfully absurd history professor (Margaret Rutherford) and a Burgundian duke (Paul Dupuis) who dashes a girl's romantic dreamt of Dijon with chat about the trams in the main square and cement factories. Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne personify Whitehall red tape. The irony of the situation is best summed up by the grocer's wife who, when it is suggested they are now a bunch of foreigners, declares: We always were English, and we always will be English, and it’s just because we're English we’re sticking out for our right to be Burgundians! Much of the film was shot on an outdoor set built on a cleared bomb site off the Lambeth Road, a mile to the east of real Pimlico, although the original title was kept largely for its curious foreign sounding quality and pleasing alliteration.
Extract© George Perry: Forever Ealing.
This very funny British comedy shows what might happen if a section of London, in this case Pimlico, were to declare itself independent from the rest of the UK and its laws, taxes & post-war restrictions. Merry mayhem is what would happen. The explosion of a wartime bomb leads to the discovery of ancient documents which show that Pimlico was ceded to the Duchy of Burgundy centuries ago, a small historical footnote long since forgotten. To the new Burgundians, however, this is an unexpected opportunity to live as they please, free from any interference from Whitehall. Stanley Holloway is excellent as the minor city politician who suddenly finds himself leading one of the world's tiniest nations. Dame Margaret Rutherford is a delight as the history professor who sides with Pimlico. Others in the stand-out cast include Hermione Baddeley, Paul Duplis, Naughton Wayne, Basil Radford & Sir Michael Hordern. (Written by Jimbo)
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