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Diary For Timothy, A (1946)

Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Main image of Diary For Timothy, A (1946)
35mm, black and white, 40 mins
DirectorHumphrey Jennings
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
SponsorMinistry of Information
ProducerBasil Wright
PhotographyFred Gamage
MusicRichard Addinsell
Commentary scriptE.M. Forster
Spoken byMichael Redgrave

Baby Timothy James Jenkins is born on 3rd September 1944, as an end to the war appears finally within reach. What does the future hold in store for him.

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While many propaganda films rely on conventional narration and strong images to deliver a message, Humphrey Jennings chose to work with a fluid mix of images and sound in a more artistic style. The combination of music and image - the radio cue light that starts the film (suggesting the now somewhat clich├ęd image of a parachutist's jump light) - builds expectation in the viewer.

Timothy, born on the fifth anniversary of the start of World War Two, represents the future, giving hope for those recently at war. The narrator fills in the history, but this is the transitional phase between war and peace, with war effectively absent. Instead it is conjured up by news bulletins and images of its impact on the home front.

A farmer, a miner, a train driver and a wounded pilot represent the British people, playing their part. All are 'fighting' for Timothy, that is, for his, and the, future. The land, its riches (food and coal for instance) and its weather evoke a sense of England, underpinned by a strong appreciation of tradition and culture, emphasised mainly by Shakespearian references, the choice of Gielgud, Redgrave (to narrate words by E.M. Forster) and the Beethoven music, which serves also to remind us that Germany can produce beauty too.

Many positive images of cosy home are shown (Christmas dinner, communal radio listening) and the tide of war has turned favourably, with reports of the Russian offensive, reduced blackout, and the home guard stood down, and some sense that the routines of babyhood imply return to normality.

So: life goes on, culture can survive, and there will be a future, but it's a hard life - and will get harder before it gets better. There is a war against ill-health and unemployment to be won, too.

David Sharp

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

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Video Clips
1. Timothy James Jenkins (3:33)
2. The most beautiful music in the world? (1:57)
3. Death and fog (3:00)
4. A new year (1:40)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Myra Hess (1945)
Gielgud, John (1904-2000)
Jennings, Humphrey (1907-1950)
Redgrave, Michael (1908-1985)
Wright, Basil (1907-1987)
Crown Film Unit