When the Wind Blows is a 1986 British animated disaster film directed by Jimmy Murakami based on Raymond Briggs’ comic book of the same name.
The film stars the voices of John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft as the two main characters and was scored by Roger Waters.
The film accounts a rural English couple’s attempt to survive a nearby nuclear attack and maintain a sense of normality in the subsequent fallout.
Jim and Hilda Bloggs are an elderly couple living in a tidy isolated cottage in rural Sussex, in southeast England. Jim frequently travels to the local town to read newspapers and keep abreast of the deteriorating international situation regarding the Soviet–Afghan War; while frequently misunderstanding some specifics of the conflict, he is fully aware of the growing risk of an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Jim is horrified at a radio news report stating that a war may be only three days away, and sets about preparing for the worst as instructed by his government-issued Protect and Survive pamphlets. As Hilda continues her daily routine, and their son Ron (living elsewhere), who is implied to have fallen into fatalistic despair, dismisses such preparations as pointless (referencing the song “We’ll All Go Together When We Go” by Tom Lehrer), Jim builds a lean-to shelter out of several doors inside their home (which he consistently calls the “inner core or refuge” per the pamphlets) and prepares a stock of supplies. He also follows through seemingly strange instructions such as painting his windows with white paint and readying sacks to lie down in when a nuclear strike hits. Despite Jim’s concerns, he and Hilda are confident they can survive the war, as they did World War II in their childhoods, and that a Soviet defeat will ensue.
Hearing a warning on the radio of an imminent ICBM strike, Jim rushes himself and Hilda into their shelter, just escaping injury as distant shock waves batter their home. They remain in the shelter for a couple of nights, and when they emerge, they find all their utilities, services and communications have been destroyed by the nuclear blast. Over the following days, they gradually grow sick from exposure to the radioactive fallout, resulting in radiation poisoning. Ron and his wife Beryl are not heard from again, though their deaths are heavily implied.
In spite of all this, Jim and Hilda stoically attempt to carry on, preparing tea and dinners on a camping stove, noting numerous errands they will have to run once the crisis passes, and trying to renew their evaporated water stock with (contaminated) rainwater. Jim keeps faith that a rescue operation will be launched to help civilians. Apparently oblivious to the dead animals, destroyed buildings and scorched, dead vegetation outside their cottage (aside from their own garden), they initially remain optimistic. However, as they take in the debris of their home, prolonged isolation, lack of food and water, growing radiation sickness, and confusion about the events that have taken place, the couple begins to fall into a state of despair.
After a few days, the Bloggs are practically bedridden, and Hilda is despondent when her hair begins to fall out, after vomiting, developing painful sores and lesions and experiencing bleeding gums. Either in denial, unaware of the extent of the nuclear holocaust, unable to comprehend it, or trying to comfort Hilda, Jim is still confident that emergency services will eventually arrive, but they never do. The film ends with the dying Jim and Hilda getting into paper sacks, crawling back into the shelter, and praying. Jim begins with the Lord’s Prayer, but, forgetting the lines, switches to “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, whose militaristic and ironic undertones distress the dying Hilda, who weakly asks him not to continue. Finally, Jim’s voice mumbles away into silence as he finishes the line, “…rode the Six Hundred…”
Outside the shelter, the smoke and ash-filled sky begins to clear, revealing the sun rising through the gloom. At the very end of the credits, a Morse code signal taps out “MAD”, which stands for mutual assured destruction.
- Peggy Ashcroft as Hilda Bloggs.
- John Mills as Jim Bloggs.
- Robin Houston as Radio 4 Announcer.
- James Russell as Additional Voice.
- David Dundas as Additional Voice.
- Matt Irving as Additional Voice.
- The film was Briggs’ second collaboration with TVC, after their efforts with a special based on another work of his, The Snowman, in 1982.
- A subsequent graphic novel by Briggs, Ethel and Ernest (1998), makes it clear that Briggs based the protagonist couple in When the Wind Blows on his own parents.
- When the Wind Blows is a hybrid of traditional and stop-motion animation.
- The characters of Jim and Hilda Bloggs are hand-drawn, but their home and most of the objects in it are real objects that seldom move but are animated with stop motion when they do.
- The soundtrack album features music by David Bowie (who performed the title song), Roger Waters, Genesis, Squeeze, Hugh Cornwell and Paul Hardcastle.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Jimmy T. Murakami.
- Producer(s): John Coates.
- Writer(s): Raymond Briggs.
- Music: Roger Waters.
- Editor(s): John Cary.
- Production: Meltdown Productions, British Screen, Film Four, International, TVC London, and Penguin Books.
- Distributor(s): Recorded Releasing Company.
- Release Date: 24 October 1986 (UK), 25 July 1987 (Japan), and 11 March 1988 (US).
- Running time: 80 minutes.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.