Forget Churchill & Darkest Hour, Wallace & Gromit are Brexit Britain on the Big Screen
Since the release of rousing historical Churchill biopic Darkest Hour it’s been almost inseparable from Britain’s current European crisis; Brexit. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill has been met with standing ovations in cinemas, while pro-Brexit politicians like Boris Johnson, Steven Woolfe and Steve Baker have all channelled the Dunkirk spirit in their rhetoric on Brexit and Britain’s future away from Europe. For a government and country embroiled in a conscious uncoupling from the EU, the resurfacing of Britain’s finest hour during World War Two with Dunkirk and Darkest Hour could not have arrived at a more opportune time. Darkest Hour goes to great lengths to present Churchill as the sole voice of defiance and optimism in the face of catastrophic military defeat and invasion from Hitler’s Germany. While his cabinet favour a potential armistice with the unstoppable Nazi machine, Churchill’s refuses to surrender and rallies his country to fight them across earth, land and sea. With confidence in the UK government stopping lower and lower with every mention of Brexit, the re-emergence of Churchill during 21st Century Britain’s very own darkest hour couldn’t be better propaganda.
Yet for all the resonance of Darkest Hour, it isn’t the only British film vying for Brexit parallels. In contrast, the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, likened the government’s misguided optimism and confused flailing with the upcoming biopic Mercy that depicts the infamous Donald Crowhurst and his aborted attempt at a round-the-world yacht race in the 1960s. Crowhurst, knowing he could neither win nor abandon the race, drifted hopelessly through the Atlantic Ocean radioing in falsified positions to cover his floundering reality. Even Nick Park and Ardman Animations latest Claymation Early Man has drawn parallels with the current political climate. The Guardian’s Steve Rose was unequivocal in his review of Early Man’s prehistoric football match between a small-minded tribe of Englishman and Bronze Age Europeans; “by accident or design, Aardman have made a Brexit movie!”. If Brexit can be characterised by a mesh of plucky underdog spirit, little islander mentality and an underlying stupidity, then it’s not Churchill, Crowhurst or prehistoric man who best capture the zeitgeist but one of Early Man’s distant plasticine cousins; Wallace and Gromit.
Yes, the middle-aged inventor with a penchant for green sweater vests and Wensleydale cheese along with his resourceful mute mutt are the heroes Brexit Britain both needs and deserves. Wallace and Gromit may reside at 62 West Wallaby Street, Wigan (a town that voted heavily in favour of leave) but they firmly exist in a retrograde vision of Britain often eulogised by those ardent EU leavers. The duo’s landscape channels the Northern working-class dramas of the 1960s, such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or A Taste of Honey, with a backdrop of terrace houses, cobbled streets, and red brick mills with jutting chimney stacks. Their pun-tastic high street is littered with bygone independent establishments such as Wool shops, bakers and butchers. Wallace and Gromit adopt traditional professions such as bakers, window cleaners, and pest control (humanely of course!). Their house is riddled with cleverly disguised throwback brands like ‘Smug’ fridges and ‘Duck’ matches. When they aren’t holidaying to the Moon, they are of course heading to iconic seaside holiday hotspot Blackpool. When they nip down to the park for a good old kickabout they obviously play with a sturdy leather football in 1950s strips with not a pink neon boot in sight. By self-consciously housing Wallace and Gromit in a romanticised, highly nostalgic version of England much closer to the 1950s than the 2000s, creator Nick Park, who himself hails from Preston, has accidentally conjured the ideal landscape for Brexit Britain. It’s been continuously speculated that Brexit is rather less about the EU, than an attempt to halt the 21st Century in its tracks, an attempt to counter globalisation by returning Britain to a prior incarnation. A Britain where you know all your neighbours, the milkman still delivers by the bottle, and English football hasn’t been irreversibly corrupted by television money. Cultural critic and author Owen Hatherley calls this attempt to construct the future on the lines of the past, via the likes of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters, as “austerity nostalgia”. Wallace and Gromit is an idealised dream of England in the 1950s without any of the austere hardship that drained the country far beyond the end of WWII, a perfect fantasy for those keen to repel mass immigration and globalisation from our shores. It’s important to remember that Wallace and Gromit first appeared way back in 1989 with A Grand Day Out, where their cosy, retro world projected nothing more than a novel and engrossing backdrop to this instantly loveable duo. Despite the innocence of Park’s vision, it’s not hard to see how easily it could be co-opted in the current climate to support a post Brexit ideology determined to drag England back to a mythologised past that never was.
With Brexit unlikely to be aborted, despite the continued fears and uncertainty, we should once again look towards Wallace and Gromit for inspiration. For all their apparently cosy domestic tranquillity, the odd couple are constantly flung into adventure, adversity and peril. Whether it’s a criminal penguin, supernatural Were-Rabbits or space travel, little phases our heroic duo. Wallace has an insatiable appetite for inventing, while Gromit quietly goes about saving the day without any fuss or credit. Together they make the ideal pairing with Wallace’s ambitious, but often malfunctioning, creations tempered by the ever-diligent Gromit. In terms of Brexit, the UK government are severely lacking in both creative solutions and quick thinking, two things Wallace and Gromit have in abundance. Next time David Davis and Theresa May hit a brick wall in negotiations, maybe they should stick on The Wrong Trousers and draw inspiration from Gromit frantically laying tracks to scupper Feathers McGraw and steer the model train to safety.
There’s plenty of doom and gloom surrounding Brexit, but whether you voted to remain or leave, Wallace and Gromit can be a glowing example of British determination and ingenuity in the face of adversity. Equating Brexit with Darkest Hour or Dunkirk belittles the genuine plight of WWII, while comparisons to Early Man is just Stone Age thinking. Britain’s true cinematic heroes are the haplessly brilliant duo Wallace and Gromit along with their warmly reassuring Britain of yesteryear. If nothing else, perhaps we can use Wallace’s words of wisdom to describe Theresa May’s predicament; “the bounce has gone from her bungee”.