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Nuclear threat becomes all too real for an animated couple in this gut wrenching piece of cinematic brilliance.

When the Wind Blows
Jim and Hilda Bloggs (voiced by John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft) are an elderly couple living in the remote Sussex countryside. Their almost romantic, rose-tinted memories of World War II are put into sharp relief when they are faced with the threat of a new kind of war and an impending nuclear attack on the British Isles. With unwavering faith in the Government, Jim prepares for the assault, relying on advice contained in various local council and government-issued pamphlets, naively disregarding the errors, inconsistencies and omissions of vital information. Hilda, meanwhile, goes about her daily housework, convinced that everything will be okay. A three-minute warning announced on the radio forces Jim and Hilda into their makeshift fallout shelter and, more by luck than anything else, they survive the devastating nuclear blast. Blissfully unaware that times have changed and that nuclear war is something completely different from the kind of warfare with which they are familiar, the couple emerge to await the arrival of the help they are sure is on its way. As the nuclear winter and its accompanying fallout arrive, the grim reality of the situation slowly begins to dawn on Jim and Hilda

When the Wind Blows
Based on the book by Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows is a masterpiece in grim storytelling using unusual animation techniques to enforce its horrific message. Oscar nominee Jimmy T. Murakami directs the film with compassion and builds up a loving respect for these two incredibly naive characters. They are slightly slow on the uptake, but how many pensioners do you think would expect the desolation and destruction the bomb will create?

The performances from John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft are perfectly pitched and incredibly believable. They give Jim and Hilda a real human side when they realise that WWIII turns out to be nothing like WWII. There’s no Churchill to spurn them on, no ARW to tell them to turn their lights out and no community camaraderie. At the start you’ll be amused at their misunderstandings of nuclear conflict. But after the bomb hits, which in itself is an engrossing piece of animation, you begin to realise that there’s no hope for these two and amusement turns into melancholy. Jim and Hilda still expect the milk to be delivered across the new wasteland, that shops will re-open and that help will soon be on its way. But the nuclear fallout and radiation exposure that they have endured will bring an end to their lives. Their desperate plight and degenerating health are upsetting to watch and when the last few desperate minutes of their lives tick by you get the true meaning of the movie and feel desperate to help these two dimensional creations.  

When the Wind Blows
The dynamic and haunting score from Roger Waters emphasises their sorry plight without becoming drippy or predictable. As I said the animation is not straight forward, the characters are animated as traditional cell animation but placed on top of a real 3D set. The effect is strange at first but you do get used to it. But the film as a whole is a truly unforgettable experience.

The transfer is from a fully restored 35mm print and for the main part is solid, coping very well with the palette of irregular garish colours. It does, at times, lack sharpness and some of the more static moments look slightly soft around the outlines. The movie uses a few different animation techniques for the dream sequences and each one looks pretty good and contains plenty of detail in the misty sections.

The sound mix here if the original Dolby Digital 2.0 version and for me is a disappointing discovery. Yes the voices are clear throughout the movie and being mainly dialogue driven this is a good thing. But the film has a powerful score and punctuates the more dramatic moments such as the slow build up to the conflict. Some use of the rears would have added a more dramatic element to the impending doom. The explosion itself lacks depth and bass thus loosing a lot of impact. Shame really as ultimately it feels slightly flat.

When the Wind Blows
The disc also comes with a disappointingly sparse selection of extras. The first a ‘Making of’ documentary was made at the time of shooting and illustrates the complexity of the piece and the difficulty the animators faced when dealing with such a dark subject. Some actually left after only a few days as they couldn’t cope with the sadness of the story. The interview with Raymond Briggs is a good piece where the author details the origins of the story and his parent’s influence over his career. But where are such things as a director’s commentary, or music video of David Bowie’s theme (there is a promotional film for this), or even a retrospective documentary interviewing the people involved almost twenty years on? A huge missed opportunity here I think.

In summary When the Wind Blows is a stunning piece that, at the time, was a bit of a wake up call to those who just didn’t realise the full horror of a nuclear warfare. This release is a bit of a missed opportunity though so fingers crossed in two years time we'll get a 20th Anniversary release to do it justice.

When the Wind Blows
By the way the United Nations International Day of Peace, a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, will take place on 21st September 2005.