The melancholic tones David Bowie mournfully set the mood for Jimmy Murakami’s revered adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ traumatic graphic novel. Originally released in 1986, when the world was gripped by the threat of nuclear war, When The Wind Blows was celebrated at the time for its humane consideration of a horrific hypothetical that many believed could soon become a devastating reality.
Briggs pivots his narrative around the “Protect and Survive” information booklet that was available at the time, and designed to inform the public of how to prepare for a sudden nuclear strike; whitewashing the windows, constructing an interior shelter using doors & cushions, and ensuring that your household was stocked with a substantial supply of tea & ginger nut biscuits. Faithful that their government’s suggestions will be enough to protect them from any forthcoming attacks, elderly couple Jim and Hilda Bloggs (voiced by John Mills & Peggy Ashcroft, their voices warm, but with notable inflections of vulnerability) roll up their sleeves and set about fortifying their Sussex-based cottage.
No amount of preparation, however, is enough to save them from the fallout after the balloon goes up. There’s a striking visual power to When The Wind Blows, Murakami utilising a pre-digital production technique that frames the hand drawn animation against a modelled backdrop of the Bloggs’ house – its eventual destruction rendered with a vivid and forceful intensity.
Yet it’s hard not to find yourself somewhat perplexed, and even frustrated by the obdurate optimism of the naïve central couple, who remain convinced that all will be well in spite of ample evidence to the contrary. It may have been starkly indicative of the time in which it’s set – not to mention being a damning indictment of Thatcher’s government. But one cannot help but feel that the film fails to detonate with the same emotional charge when viewed in our more informed modern age.