Cult Movie: When The Wind Blows a beautiful but stark portrayal of nuclear threat

When The Wind Blows – James and Hilda, voiced by Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft
When The Wind Blows – James and Hilda, voiced by Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft When The Wind Blows – James and Hilda, voiced by Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft

When The Wind Blows

BASED on the Raymond Briggs story of the same name, When The Wind Blows is the kind of low key British animation that stays with you long after the credits roll.

Originally released in 1986, it tells the tale of a likable old couple, James and Hilda (voiced by Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft), who live out a simple life in the English countryside that is suddenly thrown into turmoil when the threat of imminent nuclear destruction rears its ugly head.

As neat little moral tales go, it couldn’t be further from The Snowman, Briggs’s much more fondly thought of animated epic, if it tried. In the affable and depressingly ordinary couple of James and Hilda we have everyday figures whose gruesome fate is rendered all the more grim because of their mundane surroundings.

Voiced with suitable gravitas by Mills and Ashcroft, two pillars of the British acting world, they are sweetly sketched and believable figures from a Britain where nuclear annihilation was always lurking uneasily at the back of the general public’s minds.

Being good citizens they read their government pamphlets that tell them, with typical coldness, to prepare for the worst and they build a miserable little lean-to shelter that they pile high with Hilda’s scatter cushions positioned just so to soak up the post-apocalypse radiation.

Having survived the horrors of a world war some decades previously, the couple believe they’ll make it through all right this time round. The reality of Britain post-Russian nuclear strike soon proves that to be untrue and leaves James and Hilda wishing they’d not survived at all.

As a full blown antiwar broadside, When The Wind Blows is hugely effective and deeply affecting. The sheer ordinariness of the old couple and the utter devastation that is visited on their world by the nuclear strike means the horror really hits home.

While 80s culture was all about potential nuclear apocalypse (from Threads on TV and the proliferation of CND badges that weighed down student lapels across the land) it still packs a massive punch today. Watching ordinary people abandoned by the powers that be to fend for themselves is oddly not that strange a concept in 2020.

Directed by Jimmy Murakami and boasting a quality soundtrack that embraces everything from David Bowie to Roger Waters and even Squeeze, this remains one of the most emotionally draining “cartoons” you’ll ever see. Unleavened by any real humour, it’s bleak but strangely beautiful.

Severin Films have done a beautiful job of this Blu-ray upgrade for a film that’s seen a few DVD releases already. The animation is pinpoint sharp and there are extras such as a feature-length documentary on Murakami, who sadly died in February, and a short interview with author Raymond Briggs to enjoy.

There’s even a shocking little public information film called Protect and Survive from 1975 that shows viewers how to get ready for a nuclear attack. Like the film it accompanies, it’s a little dated but still shocking and all too believable.