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When the Wind Blows

Year: 1986
Production Co: Meltdown Productions
Director: Jimmy T Murakami
Writer: Raymond Briggs
Cast: Peggy Ashcroft, John Mills

Nuclear war fears were running high in the late 80s in the wake of The Day After, the anti-nuclear lobby and continued US posturing about the 'evil empire', so Raymond Briggs' graphic novel was a cherry ripe for the plucking. Put in some cool cred in the form of a title track by David Bowie, and it was part of the cause du jour of the times.

Years before Sin City or Watchmen appeared from right off the pages of the comics on which they were based, the animation style of When The Wind Blows is just like the book as a loving, elderly couple in the rural UK prepare for itchy triggers fingers hovering over launch buttons worldwide in their own inimitable way. Some shots, of changing camera angles inside the house, are actually very inventive and quite an accomplishment considering it was all done with hand-drawn cel animation, long before the days of CGI.

Where huge, double page panels in the book showed shadowy, menacing profiles of submarines deep underwater, missiles rising into the night and bombers in the dark sky, the action is broken up by dark, smoky interludes of metallic, impenetrable war machinery on the march, without even surface features to make them seem man-made.

And all the while, Jim (Mills) and Hilda (Ashcroft) go about their lives, having their tea, doing the washing up and going to Willis's shop in town for their odds and ends. But Jim's worried – he's been reading about the gathering hostilities in the papers at the local library, and has picked up some council pamphlets about how to prepare by building an internal shelter out of doors or bottling water.

Briggs' story managed to squeeze in several themes very deftly. Among them is of a country left somewhat behind the times before Blair's Cool Britannia brand. Jim and Hilda are England the way it saw itself, nice and polite, a pretty country with a proud history of standing up to Hitler but whose prime concerns were having a nice cup of tea and getting on with it.

They romanticise the personalities and their memories of wartime Britain as much as they talk about how today it's all done by computers and meetings and how they don't even know who's in charge anymore.

When the bomb falls in a sequence that's the very epitome of less is more (technically simple but emotionally heart-wrenching), they go about things the way they always have with quiet, polite dignity, convinced the emergency services of an old-style government that doesn't exist anymore will come around as surely as the postman must eventually. 'There's bound to be delays, there's a war on,' says Jim, keeping a stiff upper lip even as they slowly succumb to radiation sickness. Poignant and sad, but it owes everything to the source material.

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