In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Journal of Cold War Studies 4.4 (2002) 120-122

[Access article in PDF]

Book Review

British Cinema and the Cold War:
The State, Propaganda and Consensus

Tony Shaw, British Cinema and the Cold War: The State, Propaganda and Consensus. London: I. B. Tauris, 2001. 281 pp. $39.50.

What was called Airstrip One, in the Oceania of 1984, constituted Hollywood's biggest market in the early years of the Cold War. In Britain 70 percent of the movies shown in 1951, to cite a typical year, were American. The indigenous British film industry probably exerted less influence among its own audiences than did Hollywood. Nonetheless, British studios were as deeply enmeshed in the ideological effort to vindicate common Western values, and as eager to promote acceptance of the status quo against the perils of Communist subversion. Radical dissident views—much less Stalinist perspectives—were absent from British films, which, according to Tony Shaw's fascinating book, buttressed a cramped cultural system that flourished until the mid-1960s. British Cinema and the Cold War is an enlightening account of the largely unchallenged political constraints under which English studios operated, mostly in the shadow of the "special relationship" with the United States. [End Page 120]

This pattern is illustrated by Animal Farm (1954), which was arguably the most original feature-length animated film produced in England until The Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968). Pitched to adults, Animal Farm rather faithfully adapted what is the most powerful political allegory written in the English language since Jonathan Swift. Yet Louis de Rochement's cinematic achievement can be traced to Washington, where the Psychological Strategy Board endorsed the idea of using George Orwell's novel to torpedo the efforts of the East European Communist regimes to present themselves as the champions of social justice. Animal Farm was one of the many ornaments of culture that received funding from the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a group funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Orwell's widow, Sonia Blair, signed over the movie rights partly in the hope of meeting Clark Gable. Her husband's other enduring work, 1984, became a film that bore an even greater official imprint. 1984 (1956) was given a six-figure subsidy by the U. S. Information Agency, which also exercised control over the script. For good measure, the executive director of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, Sol Stein, vetted the script before the cameras rolled.

On the other hand, because Shaw covers films that were made in Britain as well as those made by British studios, he scrutinizes Dr. Strangelove (1963), the most important cinematic attack on the policy of nuclear deterrence. Although Stanley Kubrick made this pitch-black comedy for Columbia Pictures, he filmed it in Britain in his quest for greater creative autonomy than even the wounded Hollywood studio system then permitted. Dr. Strangelove helped to unravel the Cold War consensus—at a time when the dichotomy between good and evil was losing its credibility, thanks to British novelists like Graham Greene and John Le Carré, whose books were easily adapted for the screen. In earlier years, by contrast, films that depicted conditions behind the Iron Curtain, that warned of the dangers of espionage and of the Armageddon of nuclear warfare, and that exposed labor-management tensions generally did so while remaining in conformity with the orthodoxies of containment and the ancillary need for vigilance against foes of order.

Drawing widely and deeply on primary sources as well as secondary accounts, Shaw emphasizes how little flexibility was available in Britain to nourish the making of movies outside the prevailing strictures. To be sure, there was no parliamentary committee on un-British activities, no Tory counterpart to either Senator Joseph McCarthy or the lord of the files, J. Edgar Hoover. Instead, Britain gave refuge to the blacklisted, including scriptwriter Carl Foreman, director Joseph Losey, and even the Hollywood Ten's Adrian Scott. At the same time, the British Board of Film Censors enforced political conformity. The Soviet documentary on The Fall of Berlin (1949) was...