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War Lies and Public Opinion

The Falklands War on the British Screen: Plural Memories of an Occulted War

La guerre des Malouines à l’écran : mémoires plurielles d’une guerre occultée
Anne-Lise Marin-Lamellet

Résumés

La représentation de la guerre des Malouines dans le cinéma britannique est parcellaire voire elliptique et se concentre sur les conséquences et séquelles du conflit sur les anciens combattants ou les proches de ceux qui sont morts au combat. Ces films développent un discours critique envers les institutions (gouvernement, armée, médias) tandis que les soldats sont vus comme des victimes, témoins gênants d’événements récents que beaucoup préféreraient oublier. Le souvenir des morts pour la patrie est plus facilement honoré mais il est parfois récupéré par des idéologues qui confondent patriotisme et nationalisme exacerbé. Ce conflit est l’occasion pour de nombreux civils ou vétérans d’adopter un vocabulaire guerrier et de se prendre pour des soldats d’un nouveau genre de combat où l’enjeu est l’identité nationale dans une période où le pays est perçu comme en déclin. Cette représentation-anamnèse semble montrer la difficulté inhérente au traitement d’un conflit controversé du côté des vainqueurs sans paraître impérialiste, d’où peut-être le choix d’aborder ce conflit par l’angle du drame intime plutôt que du film de guerre. Cette filmographie peut s’interpréter comme une forme de repentance pour ce qui est désormais souvent perçu comme un sursaut d’orgueil postcolonial et pose la question de savoir comment faire mémoire d’une guerre qui n’a rien d’héroïque.

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  • 1 Tom Fordy, “The war Hollywood won’t touch: where are the big-budget films about the Falklands?”, T (...)

The conflict began on April 2, 1982 when Argentina’s new Junta, headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri, sent 130 Argentine commandos to invade the Falklands Islands, after years of political tussling over sovereignty of the islands. The fighting lasted for 10 weeks, after British troops had seized back the islands and forced the Argentines to surrender. Almost a thousand lives had been lost: 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders killed. […] So what is it about the Falklands that has stopped it from being dramatised as a major movie production?1

  • 2 The phrase is from Paul Greengrass, who directed Resurrected, in his foreword to James Aulich’s boo (...)
  • 3 For a thorough survey, see Lawrence Freedman, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, Volu (...)
  • 4 Without even including all the books, articles and dissertations written in Spanish, some English-w (...)
  • 5 For example, Kevin M. Flanagan, War Representation in British Cinema and Television: From Suez to T (...)
  • 6 James Aulich (ed.); Kevin Foster, Fighting Fictions: War, Narrative and National Identity, London: (...)
  • 7 Robert Murphy (ed.), The British Cinema Book 2nd edition, London: BFI Publishing, 2003 [2001], 206, (...)
  • 8 The first drama focuses on the Argentinian invasion from the islanders’ point of view, insisting on (...)
  • 9 For more details about the controversial contexts of production and reception of films or docudrama (...)
  • 10 Georges Fournier, “The British Docudramas of the Falklands War”, Frames Cinema Journal, University (...)
  • 11 Damien Burke, “HMS Coventry D118 – The Falklands War – 25th May 1982”, <https://www.hmscoventry.co. (...)
  • 12 Duncan Gibbons, “Photos: Drama at sea to film sinking of HMS Coventry”, The Coventry Telegraph, 18 (...)
  • 13 John Hill, op. cit., 19.

1Although the representation of the Falklands War in British cinema is not a “cultural no-go area,”2 since films and especially television dramas were produced in the years immediately following the conflict that briefly opposed the United Kingdom to Argentina from April to June 1982,3 it appears to be fragmentary or even elliptical to say the least. The conflict seems to have inspired many more films on the Argentinian side, which may explain the relative abundance of scholarly work based on that cinematography4 compared with the dearth of discussions referring to the cinematic productions coming from the UK. The books that deal with the subject of war in British films focus almost exclusively on the representation of the Second World War. Those that broaden the scope do not devote a chapter to the Falklands for all that, and provide at best cursory remarks.5 Those that present the cultural impact of the war whether in a strictly British or transnational perspective include only brief analyses of the oldest and best known films, usually treated individually, since these books focus on various artistic modes of representation and most of them were published in the late 1990s.6 References are even shorter in anthologies of British cinema that do not necessarily study these films in the specific light of the Falklands War.7 British television plays or dramas such as An Ungentlemanly Act (Stuart Urban, 1992) and The Falklands Play (Michael Samuels, 2002) that were respectively produced for the tenth and twentieth anniversary of the war8 have received more attention maybe owing to their wider audience – their initial production difficulties at a time of economic and political tension close to censorship having eventually sparked the interest of the film and television industry as well as of the general public when they were aired.9 They may also have lingered better in popular memory owing to their more direct link with the conflict.10 By contrast, in almost forty years, very few feature films have actually depicted the Falklands crisis itself or traced its main steps. The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011) evokes the war briefly but the sequence in the biopic is used to highlight the character of the Prime Minister rather than to revive a collective memory of this victorious conflict. The latest planned film, Destroyer, was to narrate the epic of HMS Coventry, a Type 42 destroyer of the Royal Navy that was sunk by the Argentine Air Force on 25 May 1982.11 Shooting began in the summer of 2013 but the film has obviously since then been lost in limbo notwithstanding its prestigious cast and crew (Tom Shankland directing, Paul Bettany in the lead role).12 Despite Margaret Thatcher’s wish at the time,13 no film depicting these battles has seen the light of day on the big screen so far.

  • 14 Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution, Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2001 [1961], 63.
  • 15 Lawrence Freedman, Volume 2, op. cit., 642.
  • 16 Lawrence Freedman comments: “He remembers it [the Falklands] as a ‘radio war’, because video footag (...)

2The representation of the Falklands War in British cinema is at best a backdrop for films that are in fact rather period pieces about the 1980s. At times, it may even appear incidentally, being reduced to a couple of scenes or a secondary character in what may be better described as hooligan or gangster films. However, that initial impression of triviality proves to be deceptive when these scenes or characters become the object of a hoped-for comprehensive survey that tries to make sense of this piecemeal but recurring representation. To paraphrase Raymond Williams’s methodology for cultural analysis, the point of this global thematic reading of an inclusive corpus is to discover “patterns of a characteristic kind”, the relationships between these patterns sometimes revealing “unexpected identities and correspondences in hitherto separately considered activities.”14 Without underestimating possible funding problems, the type or choice of representation to remember what Freedman called “the last war of a past imperial era [and] one of the first of the coming post-cold war era”15 seems to reveal a certain ideological orientation. The few films that bring back this period do not show the war through fictional images. They resort to known archive footage although the latter, ironically, was said to be scarce,16 whether of British troops hoisting the flag on Port Stanley, shots of captured freezing cold Argentinian soldiers or the return of ships to Portsmouth or Southampton watched by cheering crowds: The Ploughman’s Lunch (Richard Eyre, 1983), Arrivederci Millwall (Charles McDougall, 1990), Love, Honour and Obey (Dominic Anciano/Ray Burdis, 2000), This is England (Shane Meadows, 2006), The Iron Lady. But, as if to better distance themselves from this official memory, most films are in fact rather based on real or fictional veterans’ memories that are often materialised by brief flashbacks, and they focus mainly on the consequences and trauma of the conflict on them or the relatives of those who died in combat: Resurrected (Paul Greengrass, 1989), For Queen and Country (Martin Stellman, 1989), Goodbye Charlie Bright (Nick Love, 2001), This is England, The Football Factory (Nick Love, 2004). In these war stories (although the term might not be totally accurate), focalisation can be diverse resulting from a combination of military and civilian perspectives, from the top and the bottom of the social ladder. The use of different strategies to conjure up the opposing memories of this conflict also recalls the viewer that any mediation/mediatisation involves a part of subjectivisation, which makes any consensual memory difficult to attain.

3Although the memories of this somewhat occulted war remain plural, British films have so far tended to put forward the traumatic nature of this memory and used the figure of the war veteran to convey a critical discourse. First, these films present a satirical view of various institutions that are seen as the mouthpiece of an established history/official memory, this criticism being felt through the ironic counterpoints provided by some war veterans whose experience is presented as an alternative history/memory. Then, they present a critical view of how British civilian society has dealt with war veterans after the conflict, leading war veterans to rehash or repress their war memories as characters striving to cope with civilians who reversely wish to forget or fantasise over the conflict. Sharing war memories of the Falklands from the military to the civilians and vice versa therefore does not seem to be easy in, and through, British cinema.

The Falklands Veterans: An Ironic Counterpoint to Official Memory

  • 17 David Monaghan, xi-xiv, refers to this official narrative elaborated by “Margaret Thatcher, her par (...)
  • 18 Even the governor of the Falklands somewhat attacks the Prime Minister in An Ungentlemanly Act beca (...)
  • 19 The conclusion of archivist Susan Barrington in the film leaves no doubt about the denunciation of (...)

4Focusing on the fate of Falklands veterans, some films level criticism at those institutions which supported an official yet mythologising narrative about the conflict17 and generally perceived as warmongers in their way of governing, honouring and informing. Falklands veterans embody the dichotomy between political speeches and reality, which accounts for Margaret Thatcher’s omnipresence in these films. She is sometimes directly named and deemed responsible for an unnecessarily costly and murderous war as evidenced by the invectives and insulting tags of This is England. Her statements are often presented as they were delivered to show their pompous and ridiculously eulogistic character18 such as her speech on “the South Atlantic spirit” in reference to the Dunkirk spirit held at the annual conference of the Conservative Party in Brighton in 1982 (The Ploughman’s Lunch). Her voice is heard in snippets of radio or television reports in Arrivederci Millwall or This is England. Some directors use archive footage in an ironic way that deflates the official discourse it is supposed to illustrate. These documentary images are edited into fiction to denounce the public relations spin or the theatricality of the hyper-optimistic message delivered. For example, the characters supposed to embody the national elite referred to in the Prime Minister’s speech appear in a behind-the-scene sequence while they casually listen to her and are more concerned with seducing rich heiresses than with truly taking an interest in the common good (The Ploughman’s Lunch). The derelict facades of some neighbourhoods show the neglect of a government that is yet so eager to call for national unity (This is England). The editing of The Ploughman’s Lunch also draws a parallel between the archives of the Falklands and Suez to stress the resonance of official discourses and the similarity of the public relations tactics used.19 The end of the film suggests that, contrary to what the Prime Minister claims (“we will tell people the truth and the people will be our judge”), the truth was badly obfuscated by the government’s great use and abuse of hyperbole and confusion between imperialism and patriotism. While hardly any Briton was aware of the existence of the Falklands before the conflict, the conservative government did not hesitate to stir up the flouted national pride and ride this wave by downplaying other unpopular events, as evidenced by the end of Margaret Thatcher’s speech to a standing ovation to the tune of “The Land of Hope and Glory” in the same film or the post-conflict speech in the House of Commons in The Iron Lady. Many political analysts have argued that the war made her re-election easier: in The Iron Lady, the famous “Falklands factor” seems to be the acme of her career when she definitely earns her nickname and (re)establishes her popularity and leadership, before a montage summarises the rest of her decade in office. Combo, in This is England, also accuses the Prime Minister of lying to the people and soldiers.

  • 20 Tumbledown (Richard Eyre, 1988) is sometimes considered to be a docudrama because it was produced b (...)
  • 21 The two films have a similar plot, namely the fate of a young soldier who is the victim of the inhu (...)

5However, the veterans’ experiences contradict the official discourse. As they express their opinion usually to their relatives in scathing outbursts or simmering monologues, they feel that they have fought or even sacrificed their lives for nothing (Tumbledown,20 Resurrected). While the Queen remains a respected figure among all soldiers, the Prime Minister is the object of their resentment. Eddie (Goodbye Charlie Bright) saw his best friend die for his homeland and regrets that the head of government did not come to greet the troops on their return to Southampton. The bitterness of Reuben (For Queen and Country) is reflected in the scenes where he goes to the Home Office to try to have his passport renewed. The embarrassed officer explains that, following the 1981 Commonwealth Nationality Act, he lost his British nationality since he was born on the island of St Lucia. Reuben then discovers the inconsistency and ingratitude of a government that exalts the patriotic fibre in its speeches to actually repudiate those who fight in its name, unless they have the means to buy their Britishness for 200 pounds. The title of this film is a direct echo of Joseph Losey’s King & Country (1964) that also shows the absurd blindness, intransigence and ingratitude of the state towards those who serve it.21

  • 22 Reuben explains about his medals that all army personnel received the same distinctions except cook (...)
  • 23 The inhumanity with which the army treats its soldiers is symbolised by the body bags in which it r (...)
  • 24 Reuben (For Queen and Country) was deprived of promotion in favour of Lieutenant “la-di-da” (a nick (...)
  • 25 In the documentary directed by Philippe Chlous, Malouines : les laissés-pour-guerre (2007), veteran (...)
  • 26 When Robert (Tumbledown) tries to get information about his professional future, no one is able or (...)
  • 27 Colin, the manager of a sports club, wants Reuben to join as a partner. During a game of squash, he (...)

6Falklands veterans are also a mouthpiece for resentment against the Army’s ingratitude towards its soldiers. Potential recruits were lured with promises but honours are relative (For Queen and Country)22 and most often posthumous (This is England).23 Veterans have to buy their own medals to be deemed worth of an honour that is denied to most of them (Tumbledown). Social and/or ethnic contempt seeps into the relationship between the military hierarchy and soldiers whose background and/or origin undermines meritocracy.24 As for soldiers wounded in combat who become a burden for the state on their return (Tumbledown), they are transferred from one ward to another in dilapidated establishments where they are hidden away from relatives and neglected by disdainful staff (Tumbledown, Resurrected). When Kevin returns to his barracks (Resurrected), he discovers whole companies of traumatised soldiers left without care, suffering from self-destructive impulses and hallucinations; their training is even scaled up. Mentally disturbed soldiers are often cases of post-traumatic stress disorder that are undiagnosed or unacknowledged by an institution that hates controversy and scandal (Fish in For Queen and Country, Eddie in Goodbye Charlie Bright, Harris in The Football Factory). Problems are dealt with internally (see the parody of a military court that is a real lynching under the eye of the superiors in Resurrected),25 including by hiding casualties during broadcast ceremonies, during which soldiers who were awarded the red badges of courage are left aside (Tumbledown). The promised professional reintegration is a ploy, all contacts given by the army are outdated (For Queen and Country), and former soldiers feel abandoned when they return to civilian life. Many languish in squalid flats because their disability or retirement pension is not enough to offset the effects of unemployment (For Queen and Country, Goodbye Charlie Bright, The Football Factory).26 They are then pushed into illegality by combining odd jobs and all kinds of trafficking to survive (Fish and, to a lesser extent, Reuben in For Queen and Country)27 and treated as criminals by the police. The character arcs in these films show that exasperation follows perplexity and anger mounts among veterans who feel cheated by the institution they have served for many years.

  • 28 Kevin Deakin’s character is inspired by the story of Scots Guardsman Philip Williams, found alive a (...)
  • 29 This could be a reference to Thatcher’s famous quote about the miners’ strike in 1984-1985: “We had (...)

7Falklands veterans finally accuse the media of misrepresenting the war. The epic legends built by the press around a hero with a supernatural survival instinct lead to the harassment and torture of Kevin (Resurrected) by his former comrades. Jealous of a reputation that they consider usurped, they force him to eat worms as the newspaper claimed he did despite his denials.28 The media are held co-responsible for the excesses of patriotic fervour that sometimes turn into nationalism and xenophobia. Tabloids’ famous front pages are used, such as The Sun’s notorious “Gotcha” following the sinking of the Belgrano (Arrivederci Millwall, Goodbye Charlie Bright), or evoked implicitly and ironically, as in The Iron Lady when Denis Thatcher uses the same expression (“Gotcha”) to surprise his wife as she contemplates a statuette of soldiers while recalling the conflict. Archive newsreels inserted in radio or television reports extol the courage and heroism of the troops (The Ploughman’s Lunch, Resurrected, This is England). But behind the scenes, the profession shows detached or cynical journalists whose only concern is to find a new angle so as not to bore the listeners/spectators (The Ploughman’s Lunch). The montage of archival footage that opens This is England seems to establish a link between the emergence of an enemy without, Argentina, and the rise of social tensions with miners and ethnic minorities, the new enemies within.29 This link, attributable to the aggressiveness and chauvinism fuelled by the media – and symbolised by the omnipresent Union Jack in the reports –, is clearly established during Combo’s monologue and then repeated. The penultimate sequence of the film presents a mixed-race youth being beaten up by a racist and fades to black before another archive montage opens with the taskforce proudly hoisting the British flag on Port Stanley.

  • 30 See Tom Fordy: “‘Thatcher complained when Peter Snow on Newsnight didn’t say ‘we’ when talking abou (...)
  • 31 The title of the film denounces another type of falsification, through advertising, since the tradi (...)
  • 32 “On the 5th September 1981, the Welsh group ‘Women for Life on Earth’ arrived on Greenham Common, B (...)
  • 33 George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, London: Penguin, 1989 [1949], 37. This reference was perhaps i (...)
  • 34 For a detailed study of this film, see John Hill, op. cit., 141-147.
  • 35 Some people seem aware of this attempt at manipulation and count on time to do its work. When a vet (...)
  • 36 Richard Eyre who directed both The Ploughman’s Lunch and Tumbledown explains: “I think the soldiers (...)

8Even the BBC, which the government deemed not patriotic enough at the time,30 is pilloried in The Ploughman’s Lunch. As a journalist, James works to build collective memory by selecting facts in the elaboration of a kind of historiography.31 Far from being concerned with objectivity, he is reluctant, like his colleagues, to cover events that could show a breach of consensus around the warmongering attitude of the government. For example, he minimises the anti-nuclear weapons movement of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp.32 His treatment of current events echoes his stance on the Suez campaign that he wants to reinterpret as a symbolic victory of the United Kingdom, despite the military defeat of 1956, heralding the very real one of the Falklands. Echoing George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”),33 the film shows how the media rewrite history according to the ideologies and needs of the moment.34 Although officially independent (one of the characters recalls how he fought against the government’s control over information during the Suez crisis), the media regularly seem to be their master’s voice.35 The discourse conveyed has thus little to do with the personal experience of veterans who only watch programmes dedicated to the conflict or commemorations to better criticise them (Tumbledown). The Sun’s front pages are used as targets for darts (Resurrected).36

  • 37 Benjamin Stora, “Une mémoire occultée : l’Algérie, la guerre sans images ?”, in Claudie Le Bissonna (...)

9The ironic counterpoint created in these films by the juxtaposition of a memory from above and below shows that Falklands veterans, abandoned by all institutions, quickly became embarrassing witnesses to events that many would prefer to forget, both among the authorities in power and in post-conflict society,37 as shown by the ambiguous relationships between ex-soldiers and civilians. Seen above all as victims, they serve as catalysts to try to put away a past which is hard to come to terms with in the British population.

Falklands Veterans and Civilians’ Tormented Relations: Repressing and Rehashing War Memories

  • 38 When he shoots the rifle, the music and screams of the crowd suddenly stop to give way to a silence (...)

10Even though Falklands veterans can sometimes be seen favourably by their relatives and neighbours because they embody the traditional qualities of masculinity (breadwinner, virility, moral values in Goodbye Charlie Bright, The Football Factory, in a more contrasted way in For Queen and Country), they are also perceived in a much more unfavourable light because they remain irreparably marked and display unpredictable aggressive reactions. Fish (For Queen and Country), a rude and lustful alcoholic, takes advantage of his war wound to act like a domestic tyrant. Reuben, with his placid appearance, remains a killing machine and reveals his past as a sniper by demonstrating his accurate shooting skills at the funfair.38 When the telecommunications employees come to cut off their phone, Reuben and Fish beat them up. Eddie (Goodbye Charlie Bright), referred to as the “local nutter” by his neighbours, actually suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which, combined with the aggressiveness inherited from years of service, has turned him into an uncontrollable man. The zoom on his insane eyes and the throbbing music that accompanies his revelations make Charlie’s anguish at the tattooed ex-soldier almost palpable. Harris (The Football Factory) is another incarnation of a mad war-obsessed veteran, who uses his Falklands military experience to plan his battles between hooligans like a general in the field.

  • 39 George Orwell, “England Your England”, Inside the Whale and Other Essays, London: Penguin, 1968 [19 (...)
  • 40 In his opinion, “he was what put the Great into Britain. He was an old war hero”.
  • 41 Reuben (For Queen and Country) is successively called Rambo, soldier boy and is told that he must h (...)

11These behaviours can therefore partly explain the unstable relationship they have with civilians, unlike other former soldiers, such as the combatants of the Second World War. The latter had no choice but to join the army while the Falklands veterans are career soldiers who have therefore consciously chosen to enlist in this often hated institution.39 As shown in the films, soldiers from a working-class background must face the antimilitary sentiment of their milieu, which creates misunderstanding between those who leave and those who remain (materialised in For Queen and Country by parallel editing that reveals their antithetical logic). The Army is associated with death since Reuben’s best friend (For Queen and Country) welcomes him back “to the world of the living!”. Eddie (Goodbye Charlie Bright) admits that no one came to welcome him back from the Falklands, not even his father who preferred to go to the pub, perhaps to show his disapproval. While the veterans of the Second World War were considered to be heroes and entitled to the respect of their descendants, as shown by Tommy’s laudatory monologues about his grandfather (The Football Factory)40, those who enlisted, often out of necessity to escape a life of petty crime or social benefits (For Queen and Country, Resurrected), must confront the jokes and unfriendly comments of their neighbours and acquaintances for whom they became class-traitor mercenaries by serving a country that does nothing to help them out of their destitution.41

  • 42 This attitude is confirmed by Peter Kosminsky’s documentary made for the fifth anniversary of the c (...)

12Moreover, the nature of the Falklands conflict adds to the opprobrium of these veterans. For many civilians in these films, the Second World War was a war of resistance to the invader, therefore a just cause, while that of the Falklands is perceived as an unbalanced conflict between a taskforce of over-trained professional soldiers and an Army of young conscripts that were more numerous but less experienced and poorly equipped, which, as a result, does not honour the victors. Even if they belong to the Crown, these islands where sheep outnumber inhabitants are seen as a distant land where the British appear as the occupiers. This colonialist type of campaign offends the anti-war civilians, especially since it has caused many unnecessary deaths (This is England). The fight seems biased to them and they make it clear, including to the severely wounded soldiers (see Tumbledown’s doctor, Resurrected). The sons of soldiers who believed they would equal their fathers with the Falklands understand with hindsight that this is not the case, even if the latter initially try to reassure them about the usefulness of their sacrifice (Tumbledown).42 The last sequence of Resurrected uses a mise en abyme to show the difference in perception of the conflicts. Kevin, on his hospital bed, watches Reach for the Sky (Lewis Gilbert, 1956), an account of the triumphant return of Douglas Bader, a legless pilot who is always ready to go back to battle. The reverse shot on the room full of wounded Falklands soldiers reveals the cruelty endured by these forgotten or hidden veterans, deceived by the issue at stake and the fickle patriotism of their fellow citizens. World War II veterans do not like them because their relation to honour and masculinity is perverted. Harris (The Football Factory) who meditates on Albert’s grave and gratifies him with a military salute thinks he is paying tribute to him but Bill, Albert’s old companion, hates Harris who has become a hooligan, whom he considers to be the quintessence of what he fought against during the war. To the great regret of British civilians, the soldiers of the Falklands are not heroes worthy of the legend built around them but killers who, to cap it all, do not always express remorse about the acts of war they committed (Tumbledown). However, everyone – government, army, media, and society – wants heroes and those who, for various reasons, cannot fulfil this role (disability in Tumbledown, suspicion of desertion in Resurrected) have a hard time. Because he refuses to show repentance or seek redemption from civilians who prefer to forget this patriotic impulse, which in hindsight has become so ridiculous and inglorious, the veteran becomes an ostracised monster, a scapegoat to relieve them of their remaining scruples: first symbolically with Guy Fawkes Night and its purifying/redeeming pyre, then literally with Kevin’s torture (Resurrected). This sacrificial figure must disappear to allow things to return to normal.

  • 43 The films do not hide anything of the suffering endured (see, for example, the very graphic details (...)
  • 44 This complaint is also featured in the TV film An Ungentlemanly Act.
  • 45 Robert (Tumbledown) moans several times: “Nobody knows how to treat us. Nobody [...]. No one seems (...)

13The return to civilian life is therefore very difficult for rejected veterans because they still bear the scars of war, whether they suffer from physical or mental problems.43 This is probably why those who did not die in battle wish they had and live like ghosts (Resurrected) or revenants of a conflict that retrospectively no one seems to have wanted: the Kelpers (Falklands islanders) are the first to protest because of the loss of sheep due to fighting (Resurrected).44 Since they are misunderstood and rebuffed even by their families and fiancées (Tumbledown, Resurrected),45 they develop strong bonds with other veterans based on the exaltation of virility and toughness, and use this complicity stemming from shared ordeals and war memories against civilians (For Queen and Country, Tumbledown, Goodbye Charlie Bright). But the rehashing of morbid memories turns into obsession and isolates them further, making them even more psychotic (Resurrected, Goodbye Charlie Bright). The flashbacks, the only attempts to represent the conflict through fictional images, are brief flashes of consciousness constantly repeated in an ocean of darkness and noise. They often feature the silhouette of a friend torn to shreds, now a spectral figure haunting memory (Resurrected), or the reminiscence of hand-to-hand combat against an almost invisible enemy killed with a broken bayonet (Tumbledown). Veterans are accused of turning inward but it seems that no one is ready to hear their speech (Tumbledown, Resurrected). It is therefore hardly surprising that they wall themselves in silence since no one wants to bear the burden of passing on the memory of a war that everyone wants to forget. When he recounts his past as a veteran to Charlie, Eddie (Goodbye Charlie Bright) shows how those who thought they were national heroes were gradually victims of the Falklands taboo and the lack of recognition from the state. So, maybe in order to compensate, his Spartan flat has become a museum/shrine (see also that of Reuben in For Queen and Country). He thus piles up the memorabilia of a war now ignored by the elites and common people in an immaculate room (uniforms, khaki accessories, statuettes, press clippings of the time with the very warmongering slogans of The Sun, photographs, medals, flags).

  • 46 This may explain why he does not want people to speak about the conflict, whether positively or neg (...)
  • 47 In this film, a veteran’s father collects decorations but admits to being put off by the other side (...)
  • 48 Jonny obsesses and fantasises over the Falklands War and regularly watches archive footage while dr (...)
  • 49 They reproduce strategies and battle plans that seem to be an eternal repetition of their participa (...)

14Although Shaun (This is England) must suffer the sarcasm of his schoolmates who do not even respect his grief,46 the memory of the dead is more easily honoured by civil society, as shown by the numerous televised ceremonies attended by the royal family with the count of the fallen (Tumbledown, Resurrected), perhaps because it is also easier to reclaim for ideologues who confuse patriotism with exacerbated nationalism. At a time when the country was perceived to be in decline, the Falklands War became an opportunity for some civilians or veterans to adopt a warlike vocabulary and to think of themselves as soldiers of a new kind of combat where the stake was national identity. If some admit their fascination for the Army without wanting to experience the bad side of it (Tumbledown),47 others take action. They adopt military vocabulary, tone, and tactics and find new targets. War can be individual: Reuben (For Queen and Country), a demoted, denaturalised ex-soldier who is a victim of racism, becomes an inner city guerrilla fighter after losing faith in the system that lured him to better reject him. Considered a rebel because he took sides with his neighbours and acquaintances in a brawl with the police that went wrong, he ends up being shot dead by an officer during an estate riot. Ironically, this sniper is also a former para. The parallel drawn between the opening scene when Private Reuben tools up for an imminent attack in the Falklands and the one when he prepares to confront the police shows the downward spiral he has been pushed into. War can be collective: the vocabulary of war is omnipresent among gangsters (Love, Honour and Obey48) and hooligans who regularly make the headlines (Arrivederci Millwall, Cass), some of whom are veterans who have become adrenaline junkies. Through the tribal wars they are waging, they wish to show themselves worthy of those they consider their predecessors, the soldiers of the Second World War.49 If, during their war games, gangsters and hooligans are most often content to fight each other, skinheads use the feeling of decline temporarily overshadowed by the success of the Falklands to embark on a new type of combat. Combo’s monologue (This is England) suggests the question for the United Kingdom in the early 1980s was no longer to go and defend a hypothetical empire overseas but to defend Britishness, in the sense of an insular race, on its mainland, a national identity that he considers threatened by the numerous arrivals and descendants of immigrants from the Commonwealth. In a turn of phrase, the memory of Shaun’s father, who fell in the Falklands, is twisted: his useless sacrifice in a war described as “phoney” and “pathetic” will only find meaning if his son agrees to resume the fight, at home, against the enemy within. His speech with warlike semantics is echoed in the one given by a representative of the National Front who came to recruit new members for this fight to restore real prestige in the United Kingdom, something Margaret Thatcher failed to do according to them.

  • 50 His obsession with the conflict reaches a climax once he learns that his brother who served on HMS (...)
  • 51 Although the hooligans think of themselves as warriors, they meet their nemesis twice. Both the Bri (...)

15The impact of warmongering speeches on these civilians is further underlined by editing. Hearing the Prime Minister’s very nationalistic remarks immediately after seeing the skinheads engage in Paki-bashing gives a particular resonance to her defence of the Kelpers’ right to self-determination and their sovereignty, especially since the phrase “the Queen’s loyal subjects” comes along a shot of the gang leader. Although the people mentioned are not the same on the soundtrack and screen, it is striking to hear that her speech is exactly the same as Combo’s (“these islands are British”). Arrivederci Millwall also establishes a connection between the escalation in the Falklands and Billy’s increasing xenophobia and madness through the 1982 World Cup in Spain.50 The hooligan’s national pride is exacerbated by the jingoistic speeches heard and his gang’s reactions show how much they consider themselves to be on a par with the soldiers. They flaunt Union Jacks on their clothes or faces, they chant anti “Argie” songs regularly (“Argentina, what’s it like to lose the war?”, together with their whistling of “Colonel Bogey’s March” – The Bridge over the River Kwai theme song – as they strut along the streets of a Spanish village), their car windscreen displays a huge “Millwall taskforce” sticker. A montage confirms this conflation in the hooligans’ minds. As the music soundtrack turns to rolling drums covering the various news reports and speeches heard on television and the radio, a tracking shot of the car reveals the graffiti of planes and the Belgrano the gang gradually covers it with. A red cross is added when the news announces the latter have been taken down. International football competitions being a substitute for war (the television set that is always on in the Spanish police station alternatively shows football matches and Falklands newsflashes), the hooligans provoke the policemen who are happy to oblige them. “Rule Britannia” is sung to resist orders and counter the “Las Malvinas son argentinas” slogan.51 Additionally, in several films, the parallel drawn with the Suez campaign for which the Falklands War was supposedly a sort of revenge – whether the allusions are to be taken at face value or with a pinch of salt – shows that, beyond the specific stakes, it is the question of the status of the post-imperial United Kingdom that torments the British.

Conclusion

  • 52 Michael Parsons, op.cit., §64.

Perhaps the unsettled nature of the debate explains why cinema seems largely to have ignored the Falklands. Perhaps the shortage of visual memories of the conflict means that there is no common pool of images to draw from to construct a narrative with which people could identify. Perhaps, too, the doubts about the real meaning of the conflict mean that it is not a subject which lends itself easily to any sort of historical reconstruction for mass audiences.52

  • 53 “[Ils] ne racontent pas, ou presque jamais, la victoire, la belle victoire, qui est pourtant le but (...)
  • 54 See James Aulich (ed.), op. cit., 45-46; Bernard McGuirk, op. cit., 234-235, 259, 261-268, 288, 307
  • 55 Besides the references mentioned in the introduction, see Bernard McGuirk, op. cit., 269-281.
  • 56 “Numerous plays about the conflict reached the stage and radio in its aftermath, but none caught th (...)
  • 57 “Pour le dépasser, vivre avec, vivre au-delà” (my translation). Frédéric Boyer, 60. James Aulich (e (...)
  • 58 For more on these other artistic representations, see Bernard McGuirk, David Monaghan, James Aulich (...)
  • 59 The phrase is borrowed from Bernard McGuirk, op. cit., 217.
  • 60 Lawrence Freedman explains: “I think there’s a problem that a lot of contemporary film and TV focus (...)
  • 61 Paul Greengrass (in James Aulich (ed.), op. cit., ix-x) asserts: “There has been, I think, a conspi (...)
  • 62 The director of This is England confirms that in the DVD commentary (Optimum Home Entertainment OPT (...)
  • 63 For comparison, see Benjamin Stora, op. cit., 59-67, on the non-representation of the Algerian war (...)

16The representation of the Falklands conflict in British film production is therefore a piecemeal but paradoxically meaningful representation. By choosing the angle of the war veteran’s story, these films have the opportunity to evoke multiple aspects of the conflict and simultaneously reveal the persistence of a still sensitive issue forty years later. Interestingly, both British and Argentinian films have focused on trauma since veterans’ stories “do not tell, or almost never do, about the victory, the beautiful victory, which is nevertheless the official goal of the war.”53 Both have used the figure of the Falklands veteran to criticise institutions or the Establishment, and used the conflict as a projection for other kinds of “civil wars” be they social, racial or sexual.54 However, it seems that trauma in Argentinian films has been associated with resilience, the military defeat having paradoxically reinforced the national pride in the transition to democracy.55 By contrast, most of the war veterans or the civilians obsessed with the Falklands die or reach a dead-end in British films, the military victory being paradoxically associated with a problematic conception of Englishness. The scene in which Shaun (This is England) throws the English flag offered by the racist skinhead Combo is polysemic. Although everything may not be very clear in the young teenager’s mind, it is also this nationalistic and xenophobic England that he rejects because it is seen as responsible for the death of his father and the serious wounds of his friend beaten by racists. Although they too are politically charged56 and despite the fact that many of the works produced by Falklands veterans (such as memoirs and poems) have also been ways of coping – the writing process being the resilience – centred on tragedy “to overcome it, live with it, live beyond it”,57 British films rather insist on lamentation or rehashing. These films can of course also rely on irony to evoke the sense of waste and absurdity of war in general and of the Falklands War in particular, in line with the satirical pungency of some theatre plays, punk or protest songs and cartoons produced at the time of the conflict.58 But the fact remains that the figure of the Falklands veteran in British cinema has so far been associated with “trauma dramas”59 and this angle, sometimes deemed a potential exaggeration,60 may be a sign of a pervasive form of guilty conscience.61 The perpetual use of archive footage and sounds to represent the war itself in all these films can thus be interpreted in different ways that eventually concur. Making a war film is expensive and the reluctance of producers to finance this kind of film can therefore mean the fear of commercial failure owing to a subject that is not perceived as potentially interesting for the general public or even a subject that could put them off. By sticking to documentary images (landscapes, prisoners, piles of ammunition and weapons, body bags), whose authenticity reinforces their emotional impact, cinema becomes an act of memory while refusing to inappropriately aestheticise, even unconsciously, a war in which the country did not necessarily show itself in its best light.62 The choice to deal with the Falklands War from the angle of psychological drama rather than war film enables to re-humanise the victors of a controversial conflict and, consequently, to create empathy in the viewer, thus revealing the film industry’s fear of confronting a conflictual and complex history.63 By refusing to treat the subject as a spectacular collective adventure, it may be trying to dissociate itself from an official memory/history that it refutes.

  • 64 “It seems that this brief but fierce war remains dramatically useful as a symbol of Britain’s chang (...)
  • 65 Margaret Thatcher, “Message on the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands (“Fortune do (...)
  • 66 For a list of all the related events, see Alan Jones, “Events planned to mark 40th anniversary of F (...)
  • 67 Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, “Thirty years on, the British still can’t admit the truth about the Falkl (...)
  • 68 Kevin M. Flanagan, op. cit., 3.
  • 69 Ibidem, 22, 58, 105-106 (although he does not refer to the Falklands War in particular).
  • 70 David Monaghan, op. cit., xvii.

17In fact, this anamnestic representation seems to show the difficulty there is in dealing with a conflict from the winners’ side without appearing nationalistic or even imperialistic and this filmography could then be seen as a tentative discourse of repentance for what is now often perceived as an upsurge of postcolonial hubris.64 Of course, British authorities have never officially apologised for the war. Thatcher’s 25th anniversary address shows that the retired Prime Minister never regretted anything and even appeared as eulogising as ever towards the British armed forces.65 Diplomatic tensions remain tangible between Argentina and the United Kingdom, and the 40th anniversary of the conflict is to be duly celebrated by various ceremonies in the Falklands and on the British mainland including a photography exhibition at the Imperial War Museums in London and Salford.66 As provocatively mentioned by British professor of history Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, “the British still can’t admit the truth about the Falklands […] a victory whose heroics they exaggerated and whose brutalities they largely overlooked.”67 However, one could argue that the way the Falklands War has been represented on stage, television and especially in films amounts to at least a form of unofficial self-criticism. The absence of traditional war films i.e. the “dominant consensus of framing war as ethically necessary, dutiful, and politically justified”68 in a heroic and self-mythologising style, the use of a counter-tradition of tragedy or, reversely, farce and satire to emphasise the sense of waste and national decline as well as a loss of faith in institutions and elites,69 the fact that these films always provide complex and sympathetic views of the human condition (Argentinians included),70 all these trends concur to contravene the vision of the conflict as it was then presented by the government and most of the media, in an indirect apologetic reflection.

  • 71 All films, even the most critical ones, put forward the thesis of honour and national pride to expl (...)

18Films that focus on Falklands veterans, beyond more specific criticisms such as challenging the righteousness of the conflict71 or denouncing the treatment of soldiers by the Army, ask broader questions such as what exactly civil society expects from the soldiers of its country who, in no time, can go from heroes to zeroes. The scene in which Kevin (Resurrected) seems to walk on water like a new messiah after his triumphant and unexpected return/second coming illustrates this aspect because, after this climax, the harder the fall for this soldier beaten to death because he is suspected of desertion. That is why, even though the comparison with the Vietnam War does not hold historically (a long and latent conflict followed by a persistently traumatic defeat for the Americans vs a short, all-out and victorious conflict that was quickly forgotten for the British), it makes sense aesthetically because the two filmographies actually ask the same question: how to remember a shameful war?

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Bibliographie

Filmography

ANCIANO Dominic and BURDIS Ray. dir. Love, Honour and Obey. 2000.

BAIRD Jon S. dir. Cass. 2008.

CHLOUS Philippe. dir. Malouines : les laissés-pour-guerre. 2007.

EYRE Richard. dir. The Ploughman’s Lunch. 1983.

EYRE Richard. dir. Tumbledown. 1988.

GREENGRASS Paul. dir. Resurrected. 1989.

KOSMINSKY Peter. dir. The Falklands War: the Untold Story. 1987.

LLOYD Phyllida. dir. The Iron Lady. 2011.

LOVE Nick. dir. Goodbye Charlie Bright. 2001.

LOVE Nick. dir. The Football Factory. 2004.

McDOUGALL Charles. dir. Arrivederci Millwall. 1990.

MEADOWS Shane. dir. This is England. 2006.

SAMUELS Michael. dir. The Falklands Play. 2002.

STELLMAN Martin. dir. For Queen and Country. 1989.

URBAN Stuart. dir. An Ungentlemanly Act. 1992.

Works cited

AULICH James (ed.), Framing the Falklands War: Nationhood, Culture and Identity, Buckingham: Open University Press, 1992.

BARTLES Jason A., “Deserted islands for the nation: Empty land- and seascapes in three Argentine films of the Malvinas/Falklands Islands”, in Antonio Gomez and Francisco-J. Hernandez Adrian (eds.), The Film Archipelago: Islands in Latin American Cinema, London: Bloomsbury, 2022, 31-54.

BBC, “In quotes: Margaret Thatcher,” 8 April 2013, <https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-10377842>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

BOYER Frédéric, “L’expérience limite de l’honneur”, Marianne, n°825, 9-15 janvier 2013, 60.

BURKE Damien, “HMS Coventry D118 – The Falklands War – 25th May 1982”, <https://www.hmscoventry.co.uk/d118/falklands/>, <https://www.hmscoventry.co.uk/d118/25th-may-1982/>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

DAVIES Caroline, “Falkland Islands war photos to go on show for 40th anniversary”, The Guardian, 6 January 2022, <https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jan/06/falkland-islands-war-photos-40th-anniversary-imperial-war-museum-exhibition>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO Felipe, “Thirty years on, the British still can’t admit the truth about the Falklands”, The Independent, 30 March 2012, <https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/felipe-fernandezarmesto-thirty-years-on-the-british-still-can-t-admit-the-truth-about-the-falklands-7604005.html>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

FLANAGAN Kevin M., War Representation in British Cinema and Television: From Suez to Thatcher and Beyond, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

FORDY Tom, “The war Hollywood won’t touch: where are the big-budget films about the Falklands?”, The Telegraph, 14 June 2019, <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/war-hollywood-wont-touch-big-budget-films-falklands/>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

FOSTER Kevin, Fighting Fictions: War, Narrative and National Identity, London: Pluto Press, 1999.

FOURNIER Georges, “Images of the Falklands War between Fact, Fiction and Affliction”, in Carine Berbéri and Monia O’Brien (eds.), 30 Years After: Issues and Representations of the Falklands War, Farnham: Ashgate, 2015, 23-37.

FOURNIER Georges, “The British Docudramas of the Falklands War”, Frames Cinema Journal, University of St Andrews, 2015, <http://framescinemajournal.com/article/the-british-docudramas-of-the-falklands-war/>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

FREEDMAN Lawrence, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, Volume 1: The Origins of the Falklands War, London: Routledge, 2007 [2005].

FREEDMAN Lawrence, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, Volume 2: War and Diplomacy, London: Routledge, 2007 [2005].

FRIEDMAN Lester (ed.), Fires Were Started: British Cinema and Thatcherism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993.

GIBBONS Duncan, “Photos: Drama at sea to film sinking of HMS Coventry”, The Coventry Telegraph, 18 July 2013, <https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/filming-sinking-hms-coventry-new-5137989>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

HILL John, British Cinema in the 1980s: Issues and Themes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.

HIPPERSON Sarah, “Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp 1981-2000”, <http://www.greenhamwpc.org.uk/>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

JONES Alan, “Events planned to mark 40th anniversary of Falklands War”, The Evening Standard, 10 January 2022, <https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/falklands-margaret-thatcher-government-uk-government-london-b975758.html>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

McGUIRK Bernard, Falklands-Malvinas: An Unfinished Business, London: SPLASH Editions, 2018 [2007].

MONAGHAN David, The Falklands War: Myth and Countermyth, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.

MURPHY Robert (ed.), The British Cinema Book 2nd edition, London: BFI Publishing, 2003 [2001].

ORWELL George, Inside the Whale and Other Essays, London: Penguin, 1968 [1957].

ORWELL George, Nineteen Eighty-Four, London: Penguin, 1989 [1949].

PAGE Joanna, “Malvinas, Civil Society and Populism: a Cinematic Perspective”, in Guillermo Mira and Fernando Pedrosa (eds.), Revisiting the Falklands/Malvinas Question: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, London: University of London, 2021, 141-160.

PARSONS Michael, “Representing the Falklands Conflict in Word and Pictures”, Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique [Online], XV-4 (1 June 2010), <http://journals.openedition.org/rfcb/6147>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

STORA Benjamin, “Une mémoire occultée : l’Algérie, la guerre sans images ?”, in Claudie Le Bissonnais (ed.), Mémoire(s) plurielle(s) : cinéma et images, lieux de mémoire ?, Saint-Étienne: Creaphis, 2007, 59-67.

STREET Sarah, British National Cinema, London: Routledge, 2001 [1997].

THATCHER Margaret, “Remarks on the recapture of South Georgia (“Rejoice”)”, 25 April 1982, <https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/104923>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

THATCHER Margaret, “Message on the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands (“Fortune does, in the end, favour the brave”)”, 13 June 2007, <https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/110962>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

THE HERALD, “HMS Coventry’s loss in Falklands to be dramatised in £10m film”, The Herald, 2 August 2014, <https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13172918.hms-coventrys-loss-falklands-dramatised-10m-film/>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

WAKE Oliver, “Disputed Territory: Drama and the Falklands”, 2 April 2012, <http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=2519>, accessed on April 10, 2022.

WILLIAMS Raymond, The Long Revolution, Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2001 [1961].

WILLIAMS Tony, “The Ploughman’s Lunch: Remembering or Forgetting History”, Jump Cut, No. 36, May 1991, 11-18, <https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC36folder/PlmansLunch.html>, accessed on 10 April 2022.

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Notes

1 Tom Fordy, “The war Hollywood won’t touch: where are the big-budget films about the Falklands?”, The Telegraph, June 14, 2019, <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/war-hollywood-wont-touch-big-budget-films-falklands/>, accessed March 20, 2022.

2 The phrase is from Paul Greengrass, who directed Resurrected, in his foreword to James Aulich’s book, Framing the Falklands War: Nationhood, Culture and Identity, Buckingham: Open University Press, 1992, ix.

3 For a thorough survey, see Lawrence Freedman, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, Volume 1: The Origins of the Falklands War and Volume 2: War and Diplomacy, London: Routledge, 2007 [2005].

4 Without even including all the books, articles and dissertations written in Spanish, some English-written studies show a great variety of angles (war, trauma, space studies). See, for example, Joanna Page, “Malvinas, Civil Society and Populism: a Cinematic Perspective”, in Guillermo Mira and Fernando Pedrosa (eds.), Revisiting the Falklands/Malvinas Question: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, London: University of London, 2021, 141-160; Jason A. Bartles, “Deserted islands for the nation: Empty land- and seascapes in three Argentine films of the Malvinas/Falklands Islands”, in Antonio Gomez and Francisco-J. Hernandez Adrian (eds.), The Film Archipelago: Islands in Latin American Cinema, London: Bloomsbury, 2022, 31-54.

5 For example, Kevin M. Flanagan, War Representation in British Cinema and Television: From Suez to Thatcher and Beyond, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, 2, 116, 200-201.

6 James Aulich (ed.); Kevin Foster, Fighting Fictions: War, Narrative and National Identity, London: Pluto Press, 1999; Bernard McGuirk, Falklands-Malvinas: An Unfinished Business, London: SPLASH Editions, 2018 [2007]. The book that provides the most substantial analyses of a few films is David Monaghan, The Falklands War: Myth and Countermyth, London: Macmillan, 1998.

7 Robert Murphy (ed.), The British Cinema Book 2nd edition, London: BFI Publishing, 2003 [2001], 206, 285; John Hill, British Cinema in the 1980s: Issues and Themes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999, 19, 141-147; Lester Friedman (ed.), Fires Were Started: British Cinema and Thatcherism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993, 27-28, 84-85; Sarah Street, British National Cinema, London: Routledge, 2001 [1997], 106.

8 The first drama focuses on the Argentinian invasion from the islanders’ point of view, insisting on the resistance of the few marines in office and Governor Rex Hunt, filmed in the manner of the siege of the Alamo. The second, originally planned for 1987 but finally produced in 2002, focuses on the British government’s point of view and carefully dissects the steps that preceded it. These TV films therefore centre on the waiting, preparation and negotiations but, each time, the British response is the subject of an ellipse embellished with some archive footage before a brief heroic epilogue that relies on intertitles delivering facts and statistics.

9 For more details about the controversial contexts of production and reception of films or docudramas such as Tumbledown, The Falklands Play or The Ploughman’s Lunch, see Oliver Wake, “Disputed Territory: Drama and the Falklands”, 2 April 2012, <http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=2519>, accessed March 18, 2022. Tony Williams, “The Ploughman’s Lunch: Remembering or Forgetting History”, Jump Cut, no. 36, May 1991, 11-18, <https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC36folder/PlmansLunch.html>, accessed March 21, 2022.

10 Georges Fournier, “The British Docudramas of the Falklands War”, Frames Cinema Journal, University of St Andrews, 2015, <http://framescinemajournal.com/article/the-british-docudramas-of-the-falklands-war/>, accessed March 15, 2022. Georges Fournier, “Images of the Falklands War between Fact, Fiction and Affliction”, in Carine Berbéri and Monia O’Brien (eds.), 30 Years After: Issues and Representations of the Falklands War, Farnham: Ashgate, 2015, 23-37.

11 Damien Burke, “HMS Coventry D118 – The Falklands War – 25th May 1982”, <https://www.hmscoventry.co.uk/d118/falklands/>, accessed March 18, 2022, and <https://www.hmscoventry.co.uk/d118/25th-may-1982/>, accessed March 18, 2022.

12 Duncan Gibbons, “Photos: Drama at sea to film sinking of HMS Coventry”, The Coventry Telegraph, 18 July 2013, <https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/filming-sinking-hms-coventry-new-5137989>, accessed March 18, 2022; “HMS Coventry’s loss in Falklands to be dramatised in £10m film”, The Herald, 2 August 2014, <https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13172918.hms-coventrys-loss-falklands-dramatised-10m-film/>, accessed March 18, 2022.

13 John Hill, op. cit., 19.

14 Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution, Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2001 [1961], 63.

15 Lawrence Freedman, Volume 2, op. cit., 642.

16 Lawrence Freedman comments: “He remembers it [the Falklands] as a ‘radio war’, because video footage took weeks to get back to British television. ‘It was pre-internet, pre-easy communications,’ says Freedman. ‘By 1991 with the Gulf War this had changed, but the communications at the time were quite difficult, even amongst commanders. The TV images came back late, way after the event.’” Tom Fordy, op. cit. Georges Fournier, “The British Docudramas” and “Images of the Falklands War”, op. cit., 24-26; Michael Parsons, “Representing the Falklands Conflict in Word and Pictures”, Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique, XV-4 | 2010, <http://journals.openedition.org/rfcb/6147>, accessed March 20, 2022.

17 David Monaghan, xi-xiv, refers to this official narrative elaborated by “Margaret Thatcher, her parliamentary supporters and the tabloid press” as the “Falklands myth”. Although dissenting voices have provided “subversive retellings of the Falklands story” since the end of the war, he notices the “continuing appeal of the official Falklands myth” (xvi) fifteen years later.

18 Even the governor of the Falklands somewhat attacks the Prime Minister in An Ungentlemanly Act because London initially remains impassive during the invasion of the archipelago. The only TV film that favourably presents Margaret Thatcher, The Falklands Play, was censored by the BBC because, according to its screenwriter, it then feared a second “Falklands factor” if the film was broadcast in an election year (Oliver Wake, op. cit.). In cinema, only The Iron Lady, although not specifically dedicated to the Falklands, presents a hagiographic vision of the Prime Minister, tormented but determined to defend a just cause.

19 The conclusion of archivist Susan Barrington in the film leaves no doubt about the denunciation of imperialism at work, whether the enemy is Nasser or the Argentinians: “why don’t they make propaganda films like that anymore?” Similarly, the comments of her mother, historian Ann Barrington, on the Suez campaign are obviously to be transposed to the Falklands conflict, including her criticism of the Establishment eager to maintain the Empire at all costs.

20 Tumbledown (Richard Eyre, 1988) is sometimes considered to be a docudrama because it was produced by the BBC as many films were at the time (with Channel 4), owing to the drastic budget cuts implemented by the government in the film industry. Because all of them were made by the same artistic and technical teams and some of them eventually benefited from a theatrical release, the film was included in the main corpus.

21 The two films have a similar plot, namely the fate of a young soldier who is the victim of the inhumanity of institutions, which colours the epigraph, a quote by a soldier in Cromwell’s New Model Army, with a tinge of irony as it echoes the opening lines of Losey’s film: “Here dead lie we, because we did not choose to live and shame the land from which we sprung. Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose; but young men think it is, and we were young.”

22 Reuben explains about his medals that all army personnel received the same distinctions except cooks, which greatly minimises the honour that was given to him.

23 The inhumanity with which the army treats its soldiers is symbolised by the body bags in which it repatriates the dead. Eddie (Goodbye Charlie Bright) remembers that there was not a big enough one for his friend.

24 Reuben (For Queen and Country) was deprived of promotion in favour of Lieutenant “la-di-da” (a nickname related to his accent) who was of a higher social class. He probably also remained a second-class soldier, despite his feats of arms, because of his skin colour. Lieutenant La-Di-Da is also emasculated by his description: a rookie who has never been a soldier but has directly integrated the staff thanks to his pedigree. This reverse snobbery is reminiscent of his class contempt for the Home Office officer that he had violently rebuked following the rejection of his request: “Where were you when the bullets flew? Hiding behind your desk, like all your kind.”

25 In the documentary directed by Philippe Chlous, Malouines : les laissés-pour-guerre (2007), veterans explain that the conflict was a turning point in the way the army has considered this syndrome. It previously put it down to soldiers’ supposed weakness of character rendering them unfit for service.

26 When Robert (Tumbledown) tries to get information about his professional future, no one is able or willing to answer him. Fish (For Queen and Country) does not even have enough to pay his phone bills anymore.

27 Colin, the manager of a sports club, wants Reuben to join as a partner. During a game of squash, he begins by beating around the bush as the camera amplifies his gyrations with its circular movements because he first hesitates to tell him that he finances his business through drug trafficking but he insists: he is not a thug and shows his clean, white hands. However, Reuben is not ready to cross the red line that separates the two types of activity, as symbolically shown by their rally during the match when the negotiation takes place.

28 Kevin Deakin’s character is inspired by the story of Scots Guardsman Philip Williams, found alive after seven weeks as he had disappeared during the march on Port Stanley. His claimed amnesia has always been suspected of covering his desertion.

29 This could be a reference to Thatcher’s famous quote about the miners’ strike in 1984-1985: “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.” (BBC, “In quotes: Margaret Thatcher”, 8 April 2013, <https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-10377842>, accessed March 22, 2022).

30 See Tom Fordy: “‘Thatcher complained when Peter Snow on Newsnight didn’t say ‘we’ when talking about British forces,’ recalls Freedman”. See also James Aulich (ed.), op. cit., 111.

31 The title of the film denounces another type of falsification, through advertising, since the traditional dish it refers to is actually an invention of the 1960s.

32 “On the 5th September 1981, the Welsh group ‘Women for Life on Earth’ arrived on Greenham Common, Berkshire, England. They marched from Cardiff with the intention of challenging, by debate, the decision to site 96 Cruise nuclear missiles there. […] When their request for a debate was ignored, they set up a Peace Camp just outside the fence surrounding RAF Greenham Common Airbase. They took the authorities by surprise and set the tone for a most audacious and lengthy protest that lasted 19 years. Within 6 months the camp became known as the Women’s Peace Camp and gained recognition both nationally and internationally by drawing attention to the base with well-publicised imaginative gatherings.” Sarah Hipperson, “Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp 1981-2000”, <http://www.greenhamwpc.org.uk/>, accessed March 22, 2022.

33 George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, London: Penguin, 1989 [1949], 37. This reference was perhaps in the mind of the screenwriter since, at the beginning of the film, a radio report is heard informing that the governments of Eastern Europe are rewriting their history textbooks according to their latest wishes, in a Stalinist way.

34 For a detailed study of this film, see John Hill, op. cit., 141-147.

35 Some people seem aware of this attempt at manipulation and count on time to do its work. When a veteran’s parents debate the hero status of their son and his friend, the father concludes: “Two heroes? I don’t know yet. I haven’t read the myth”.

36 Richard Eyre who directed both The Ploughman’s Lunch and Tumbledown explains: “I think the soldiers were at odds with the media […]. I remember speaking to paras who in contempt of the tabloid press burnt copies of The Sun.” Tom Fordy, op. cit.

37 Benjamin Stora, “Une mémoire occultée : l’Algérie, la guerre sans images ?”, in Claudie Le Bissonnais (ed.), Mémoire(s) plurielle(s) : cinéma et images, lieux de mémoire ?, Saint-Étienne: Creaphis, 2007, 59-60, defines a historical “memory lapse” as the result of a “necessary oblivion” of civil society, so that the community can survive the war, and a “perverse oblivion”, orchestrated by the authorities to deny their responsibilities and/or abuses.

38 When he shoots the rifle, the music and screams of the crowd suddenly stop to give way to a silence that reflects the concentration of the shooter who does not want to miss his target. The game turns into war and Reuben who applies himself to his task asks for another rifle because the barrel of his is warped. The succession of shots all lodged in the centre of the target, the close-up on his eye riveted on the weapon, the clicking of the hammer suddenly frighten his new partner Stacey who had asked him about his past shortly before to know if he had already killed. He had dodged the question, she now has her answer.

39 George Orwell, “England Your England”, Inside the Whale and Other Essays, London: Penguin, 1968 [1957], 68-70, evokes the antimilitarism of the British working class: “the English hatred of war and militarism is rooted deep in history, and it is strong in the lower-middle as well as the working class […] In peace-time, even when there are two million unemployed, it is difficult to fill the ranks of the tiny standing Army […]. In England all the boasting and flag-waving, the ‘Rule Britannia’ stuff is done by small minorities […]. So deep does this feeling go that for a hundred years past the officers of the British Army, in peace-time, have always worn civilian clothes when off duty.” Films featuring a working-class hero often resonate with Orwell’s words as they show characters voicing their hatred or distrust of the Army, which is sometimes linked to the transgenerational memories of crushing defeats of the labour movement. See Anne-Lise Marin-Lamellet, “Le Working Class Hero ou la figure ouvrière à travers le cinéma britannique de 1956 à nos jours”, PhD Dissertation, Grenoble University, 2011, 717-719.

40 In his opinion, “he was what put the Great into Britain. He was an old war hero”.

41 Reuben (For Queen and Country) is successively called Rambo, soldier boy and is told that he must have a toad brain for joining the army while he is poor and black. A skinhead adds that, if it was the taste of fighting that decided him, he could have just as well stayed in the neighbourhood and indulged in his passion but perhaps he preferred to be paid to smash skulls with boots. Young blacks, who are ska or reggae fans and therefore more peace-loving, ironically ask him how many poor Argentinians he killed during the Falklands War.

42 This attitude is confirmed by Peter Kosminsky’s documentary made for the fifth anniversary of the conflict, The Falklands War: the Untold Story, which reveals the disappointment of the soldiers interviewed at the deployment of so much force in the face of such a young enemy to liberate a deserted capital.

43 The films do not hide anything of the suffering endured (see, for example, the very graphic details of the rehabilitation of the disabled in Tumbledown).

44 This complaint is also featured in the TV film An Ungentlemanly Act.

45 Robert (Tumbledown) moans several times: “Nobody knows how to treat us. Nobody [...]. No one seems to know how to cope with us”. The fade to black that closes the scene symbolises his mood. In all the films of the corpus, only Kevin’s little brother (Resurrected) and Shaun, the son of a soldier who died for the fatherland (This is England), defend their reputation or memory tooth and nail against the hostility of civilians.

46 This may explain why he does not want people to speak about the conflict, whether positively or negatively.

47 In this film, a veteran’s father collects decorations but admits to being put off by the other side of the coin, namely violence and death. He was also exempted during the Second World War.

48 Jonny obsesses and fantasises over the Falklands War and regularly watches archive footage while drawing analogies between the gangland warfare he wants to create in the London underworld and the conflict.

49 They reproduce strategies and battle plans that seem to be an eternal repetition of their participation in the conflict and that result in a brief and then a debrief meeting, usually in the pub. They lead their units like platoons organised according to a hierarchy that is also imported from the army, from the young scout to the highest ranking officer often called “general” or “governor”. Interestingly, Paul Greengrass (in James Aulich, x) establishes a link between the two because of the jingoism and xenophobia they associate Englishness with: “There is a line of sorts, however loose, between the Paras yomping their way across the Falklands to the lager louts of today, laying waste to European cities in the name of football”. That might explain the number of hooligan films somehow related to the Falklands War.

50 His obsession with the conflict reaches a climax once he learns that his brother who served on HMS Hermes died in combat. He then wants to kill a Spaniard in revenge, thus showing his confusion when his friend Cass tries to talk him out of it (“They killed Bobby […]. Don’t matter. Just one of them. They’re all the same”).

51 Although the hooligans think of themselves as warriors, they meet their nemesis twice. Both the British official who gets them out of the police station and the English football supporter they meet in a café and who turns out to be an ex-paratrooper express their utmost contempt for those they consider to be a national shame. Each time, a high-angle shot and a close-up crush Billy to the ground and his irony or vandalism cannot hide his symbolic defeat and narcissistic wounds.

52 Michael Parsons, op.cit., §64.

53 “[Ils] ne racontent pas, ou presque jamais, la victoire, la belle victoire, qui est pourtant le but officiel de la guerre” (my translation). Frédéric Boyer, “L’expérience limite de l’honneur”, Marianne, n°825, 9-15 janvier 2013, 60.

54 See James Aulich (ed.), op. cit., 45-46; Bernard McGuirk, op. cit., 234-235, 259, 261-268, 288, 307.

55 Besides the references mentioned in the introduction, see Bernard McGuirk, op. cit., 269-281.

56 “Numerous plays about the conflict reached the stage and radio in its aftermath, but none caught the attention of the public at large. However, when television tackled the subject for the mass audience, the results were frequently politically charged and contentious.” Oliver Wake, op. cit.

57 “Pour le dépasser, vivre avec, vivre au-delà” (my translation). Frédéric Boyer, 60. James Aulich (ed.), op. cit., 76-78 and Michael Parsons, op. cit., §55-56, also mention the collages made by war veterans as part of their PTSD therapy.

58 For more on these other artistic representations, see Bernard McGuirk, David Monaghan, James Aulich (ed.), Kevin Foster.

59 The phrase is borrowed from Bernard McGuirk, op. cit., 217.

60 Lawrence Freedman explains: “I think there’s a problem that a lot of contemporary film and TV focuses on trauma. Not to deny PTSD, but most soldiers recover from it.” (in Tom Fordy, op. cit.).

61 Paul Greengrass (in James Aulich (ed.), op. cit., ix-x) asserts: “There has been, I think, a conspiracy of sorts to bury the Falklands experience. Not a smoke filled room conspiracy, but a national conspiracy born of shame which prevents us from confronting the realities of that war, and the fact that, like a junkie, Britain took a lethal fix of jingoism and xenophobia in 1982”.

62 The director of This is England confirms that in the DVD commentary (Optimum Home Entertainment OPTD1011, 2007). His research took him back to his childhood memories and enabled him to become aware of the difference between media discourse and the actual facts.

63 For comparison, see Benjamin Stora, op. cit., 59-67, on the non-representation of the Algerian war and, more particularly, the importance of fiction films to perpetuate war memories.

64 “It seems that this brief but fierce war remains dramatically useful as a symbol of Britain’s changing status as an ex-imperial power and, in this age of coalitions, its last days as a nation able to act independently as a military force far from home.” Oliver Wake, op. cit.

65 Margaret Thatcher, “Message on the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands (“Fortune does, in the end, favour the brave”)”, 13 June 2007, <https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/110962>, accessed on March 20, 2022. She even echoed her famous and controversial injunction to “rejoice” when the British taskforce had announced the recapture of South Georgia (“Remarks on the recapture of South Georgia (“Rejoice”)”, 25 April 1982, <https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/104923>, accessed March 20, 2022.

66 For a list of all the related events, see Alan Jones, “Events planned to mark 40th anniversary of Falklands War”, The Evening Standard, 10 January 2022, <https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/falklands-margaret-thatcher-government-uk-government-london-b975758.html>, accessed March 22, 2022. Caroline Davies, “Falkland Islands war photos to go on show for 40th anniversary”, The Guardian, 6 January 2022, <https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jan/06/falkland-islands-war-photos-40th-anniversary-imperial-war-museum-exhibition>, accessed March 20, 2022.

67 Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, “Thirty years on, the British still can’t admit the truth about the Falklands”, The Independent, 30 March 2012, <https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/felipe-fernandezarmesto-thirty-years-on-the-british-still-can-t-admit-the-truth-about-the-falklands-7604005.html>, accessed March 20, 2022.

68 Kevin M. Flanagan, op. cit., 3.

69 Ibidem, 22, 58, 105-106 (although he does not refer to the Falklands War in particular).

70 David Monaghan, op. cit., xvii.

71 All films, even the most critical ones, put forward the thesis of honour and national pride to explain this bout of imperialism. Other possible theses, such as the presence of oil off the coast mentioned by the Americans in The Falklands Play, are rejected.

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Anne-Lise Marin-Lamellet, « The Falklands War on the British Screen: Plural Memories of an Occulted War »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. 20-n°53 | 2022, mis en ligne le 20 juin 2022, consulté le 25 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/13983 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.13983

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Anne-Lise Marin-Lamellet

Anne-Lise Marin-Lamellet is a senior lecturer of English at the University of Saint-Étienne, France. She works on contemporary British studies and cinema, mainly on issues of class, race, gender and nation as well as their relation to space (especially urban areas) and genres. She wrote a PhD entitled “The Working Class Hero through British cinema since 1956” and has published various articles and chapters on these related topics, accessible at: https://eclla.univ-st-etienne.fr/fr/presentation/membres/titulaires/marin-lamellet-anne-lise.html.

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