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The British War Film, 1939-1980: Culture, History, and Genre

Flanagan, Kevin M. (2015) The British War Film, 1939-1980: Culture, History, and Genre. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation argues that discussions of war representation that privilege the nationalistic, heroic, and redemptively sacrificial strand of storytelling that dominate popular memory in Britain ignore a whole counter-history of movies that view war as an occasion to critique through devices like humor, irony, and existential alienation. Instead of selling audiences on what Graham Dawson has called “the pleasure culture of war” (a nationally self-serving mode of talking about and profiting from war memory), many texts about war are motivated by other intellectual and ideological factors. Each chapter includes historical context and periodizing arguments about different moments in British cultural history, explores genre trends, and ends with a comparative analysis of representative examples.
Chapter One traces competing representational modes between 1939 and 1945, arguing that films about war and wartime during this period trouble the traditional binarism in British film historiography between realism and fantasy. Chapter Two looks at historical intersections of comedy and war, arguing that the embrace of irony as a argumentative position allows war comedies to engage with the idea of failure, a notion all but missing from dominant strands of war representation. Chapter Three describes a post-1956 brand of war tragedy that embraces cynicism, tonal bleakness, and the cultural vogue for existentialism as another affront to triumphalist war narratives. Chapter Four shifts from bigger conceptual categories to a specific, historically embedded interest in technology and strategy that intensifies after 1945. This chapter argues that many films turn away from war as historically grounded fact, and towards a conception of war that is overtly simulated and virtual. Chapter Five examines the representational challenge of the nuclear bomb for British cinema, arguing that beyond similarities to international trends that align these weapons with panic and horror, the specter of atomic energy encapsulates a larger geopolitical visioning of the nation’s loss of control. A Conclusion examines the reception of many of the films analyzed and acknowledges the influence and legacy of these alternative approaches to war.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Flanagan, Kevin M.kmf50@pitt.eduKMF50
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairFischer, Lucylfischer@pitt.eduLFISCHER
Committee MemberMacCabe, Colinmaccabe@pitt.eduMACCABE
Committee MemberLowenstein, Adamalowen@pitt.eduALOWEN
Committee MemberPettersen, Daviddpetter@pitt.eduDPETTER
Date: 15 September 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 15 April 2015
Approval Date: 15 September 2015
Submission Date: 15 May 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 385
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: British cinema, war film, genre, cultural studies
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2015 13:16
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:28


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