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Essentially British?: Christmas Under Fire (1941)
In the Classroom


This is an excellent film for analysing the various techniques employed in wartime propaganda (also see From the Four Corners (1940) and Island People (1940)). In addition to the usual questions (who was the film aimed at/what is the significance of the year it as released/what is the motive behind it), why not encourage students to investigate the various elements of the film - narration, moving images and soundtrack - analysing how they work together to produce a powerful, emotive piece of film. Alternatively, compare and contrast Christmas Under Fire with other forms of wartime propaganda aimed at an American audience. How effective do students think film was (and is) as a medium for conveying a specific message? In fact, what is the central message of this film?

Challenge students to adapt the narration to make the film appropriate for a different audience. How could the film be repurposed, for example, for exhibition in British cinemas?

Alternatively, use the film as a way of introducing the US's entry into the conflict. Why did the US not join the war effort sooner and what were their principle reasons for doing so in 1942? How effective do students think a film like Christmas Under Fire would have been in encouraging American support? Where might the film have been shown and to whom?

As with all propaganda, there is also the question of utility and reliability. What can students learn about life in Britain in 1941 and the impact of the Blitz? What are the limitations of the source as a piece of historical evidence and how does it compare with their own knowledge of the subject?

Useful films for comparison

  • Island People (1940): a celebration of the 'British character' in this propaganda film for a civilian audience that makes no mention of the war.
  • From the Four Corners (1940): soldiers from New Zealand, Australia and Canada discuss their reasons for joining the war with Leslie Howard.