Listen to Britain

Listen to Britain (1942) written, edited, and directed by Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister. In an eighteen minute whirlwind, Listen to Britain takes the viewer through twenty-four hours of the British war effort. The film observes British workers (male and female) and soldiers in wheat fields, steel mills, various factories, etc. Except for a brief introduction, Jennings and McAllister eschew narration. Instead, the film becomes a montage that relies on constant juxtaposition of images in order to foster a sense of interdependence and unity of the entire nation.

Sound, music, and audio overlays are integral in promoting this sense of interdependence and unity. For example, the transition from the singing of Flanagan and Allen to Myra Hess’s recital of Mozart’s 17th Piano Concerto is seamless. The overlay of the audio track – for a moment – melds their efforts into one, emphasizing the similarity and importance of all entertainment and adding to the overall “leveling” feel of the film.

In sum, Listen to Britain is a truly incredible piece of propaganda. The film was a success on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is not difficult to understand why. Jennings and McAllister produced a subtle film that documented and celebrated the perseverance and efforts of all British workers amidst difficult conditions. The reality of working conditions allowed workers to recognize and appreciate the effort and sacrifices fellow workers were making.
Gregory Kosc University of Texas-Arlington

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