When the Wind Blows: An Animated Tale of Nuclear Apocalypse With Music by Roger Waters & David Bowie (1986)

Human­i­ty has few fas­ci­na­tions as endur­ing as that with apoc­a­lypse. We’ve been telling our­selves sto­ries of civ­i­liza­tion’s destruc­tion as long as we’ve had civ­i­liza­tion to destroy. But those sto­ries haven’t all been the same: each era envi­sions the end of the world in a way that reflects its own imme­di­ate pre­oc­cu­pa­tions. In the mid nine­teen-eight­ies, noth­ing inspired pre­oc­cu­pa­tions quite so imme­di­ate as the prospect of sud­den nuclear holo­caust. The mount­ing pub­lic anx­i­ety brought large audi­ences to such major after­math-dra­ma­tiz­ing “tele­vi­sion events” as The Day After in the Unit­ed States and the even more har­row­ing Threads in the Unit­ed King­dom.

“As a young­ster grow­ing up in the nine­teen-eight­ies in a tiny vil­lage in the heart of the Cotswolds, I can attest to the fact that no part of the coun­try, how­ev­er remote and bucol­ic, was imper­vi­ous to the threat of the Cold War esca­lat­ing into a full-blown nuclear con­flict,” writes Neil Mitchell at the British Film Insti­tute.

“Pop­u­lar cul­ture was awash with nuclear war-themed films, com­ic strips, songs and nov­els.” This tor­rent includ­ed the artist-writer Ray­mond Brig­gs’ When the Wind Blows, a graph­ic nov­el about an elder­ly rur­al cou­ple who sur­vive a cat­a­stroph­ic strike on Eng­land. Jim and Hilda’s opti­mism and will­ing­ness to fol­low gov­ern­ment instruc­tions prove to be no match for nuclear win­ter, and how­ev­er inex­orable their fate, they man­age not to see it right up until the end comes.

In 1986, When the Wind Blows was adapt­ed into a fea­ture film, direct­ed by Amer­i­can ani­ma­tor Jim­my Muraka­mi. Among its dis­tinc­tive aes­thet­ic choic­es is the com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tion­al cel ani­ma­tion for the char­ac­ters with pho­tographed minia­tures for the back­grounds, as well as the com­mis­sion­ing of sound­track music from the likes of Roger Waters, David Bowie, and Gen­e­sis — prop­er Eng­lish rock­ers for a prop­er Eng­lish pro­duc­tion. If the adap­ta­tion of When the Wind Blows is less wide­ly known today than oth­er nuclear-apoc­a­lypse movies, that may owe to its sheer cul­tur­al speci­fici­ty. It would be dif­fi­cult to pick the movie’s most Eng­lish scene, but a par­tic­u­lar­ly strong con­tender is the one in which Hil­da rem­i­nisces about how “it was nice in the war, real­ly: the shel­ters, the black­out, the cups of tea.”

“The cou­ple are fruit­less­ly nos­tal­gic for the Blitz spir­it of the Sec­ond World War, con­vinced the gov­ern­ment-issued Pro­tect and Sur­vive pam­phlets are worth the paper they’re print­ed on, and blind­ly under the assump­tion that there can be a win­ner in a nuclear war,” writes Mitchell. “These sweet, unas­sum­ing retirees rep­re­sent an ail­ing, rose-tint­ed world­view and way of life that’s woe­ful­ly unpre­pared for the mag­ni­tude of dev­as­ta­tion wrought by the bomb.” You can see fur­ther analy­sis of the film’s art and world­view in the video at the top of the post from ani­ma­tion-focused Youtube chan­nel Steve Reviews. In the event, human­i­ty sur­vived the long show­down of the Cold War, los­ing none of our pen­chant for apoc­a­lyp­tic fan­ta­sy as a result. How­ev­er com­pul­sive­ly we imag­ine the end of the world today, will any of our visions prove as mem­o­rable as When the Wind Blows?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Pro­tect and Sur­vive: 1970s British Instruc­tion­al Films on How to Live Through a Nuclear Attack

The Atom­ic Café: The Cult Clas­sic Doc­u­men­tary Made Entire­ly Out of Nuclear Weapons Pro­pa­gan­da from the Cold War (1982)

The Night Ed Sul­li­van Scared a Nation with the Apoc­a­lyp­tic Ani­mat­ed Short, A Short Vision (1956)

Duck and Cov­er: The 1950s Film That Taught Mil­lions of School­child­ren How to Sur­vive a Nuclear Bomb

How a Clean, Tidy Home Can Help You Sur­vive the Atom­ic Bomb: A Cold War Film from 1954

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Patricia says:

    I saw this when it first came out, amaz­ing­ly enough writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ray­mond Brig­gs, of “The Snow­man” fame. More than big splashy made for tv movies writ­ten at the same time, this home­ly lit­tle unique­ly Eng­lish apoc­a­lyp­tic sto­ry broke my heart. It’s a clas­sic, but be pre­pared to cry.

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