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Dim Little Island, The (1948)


Main image of Dim Little Island, The (1948)
35mm, black and white, 11 mins
DirectorHumphrey Jennings
Production CompanyWessex Film Productions
SponsorCentral Office of Information
Producer Humphrey Jennings
PhotographyMartin Curtis
MusicRalph Vaughan Williams

The artist Osbert Lancaster, naturalist James Fisher, industrialist John Ormston and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams reflect on the present state and future prospects of Britain.

Show full synopsis

The first of Humphrey Jennings' projects for the independent production company Wessex Films - founded by his tolerant and protective producer at the Crown Film Unit, Ian Dalrymple - The Dim Little Island is something of a trial run for the longer and more ambitious Family Portrait, completed two years later. Both films are unabashed pieces of propaganda: they are pep talks, designed to help cheer up a nation that seemed to be settling into a spiritual as well as an economic depression in the first years after victory. Jennings began work on a treatment for the film in the early summer of 1948, at which time it bore the title Awful Old England - an allusion to a poem by Rudyard Kipling, in which a much-travelled, much-adventured British serviceman finds it hard to adjust to his far less glamorous life back in the Old Country.

Jennings chose four eminent men to deliver idiosyncratic pep talks: Osbert Lancaster, the satirical cartoonist (it is from his crisp, patrician voiceover that the film's eventual title was taken); John Ormston, an industrialist; James Fisher, a naturalist; and Ralph Vaughan Williams, the well-known composer. Each specialist suggests a personal reason to be cheerful: Britain's great wildlife preserves, its musical vitality, its decent chances of rebuilding a competitive ship-building industry. From our perspective, this is a rather unusual, even eccentric gathering, and though Jennings does not mock these worthies' sentiments, he arranges them in such a way that each seems to end with a dying fall.

It is an oddly melancholic, tart little piece, which contradicts with its emotional tenor its own declarations of optimism. Jennings may not have set out to make an elegy for British things lately lost or about to be lost, but that is what resulted; and very fine it is, too.

Kevin Jackson

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The licensed fool (1:03)
2. The Last of England (1:35)
3. A wild treasure ground (1:50)
4. Our music (2:36)
5. Kindling the fire (2:07)
Complete film (10:12)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Jennings, Humphrey (1907-1950)
Vaughan Williams, Ralph (1872-1958)