Ouch -- satire that cuts right to the bone
By a customer
from Cardiff, Wales
, 22 Jun 2005
'Carlton-Browne of the Foreign Office' is a biting satire about British post-colonial foreign policy. For many it will be too close to the bone to be funny, others who consider the subject too serious to be the butt of humour will frown, those who have no interest in British foreign policy will find nothing to laugh at, but this family laughed long and loud. The film follows events in a country over which Britain formerly exercised sovereignty but which is now independent. The head of state is assassinated and the country divides into the traditional warring factions. A UN peacekeeping force goes in and enforces partition. Meanwhile Britain, the USSR, the USA and the French have all sent investigative teams on the island. The British team report back to Whitehall, and Foreign Office staff celebrate their discovery that 'we' now have enough of a certain mineral to destroy the world. Then it transpires that the valuable mineral reserves are in the part of the country outside British control. As the crisis in the country deepens, the USSR, Britain and the USA send in troops ... No, this is not Iraq, nor Cuba, Cyprus, Korea, Germany or Palestine. But although events in Palestine in the 1950s may have provided the backdrop for the film, this attack on British foreign policy can be applied to any time in the period since the end of WW2 and has a good deal to say to modern politicians and their supporters about Western attitudes to emerging post-colonial nations. The criticism is deepened by some hilarious touches: we watch the UN peacekeepers painting a white line across the island of Gaillardia, dividing north from south, a peasant's shack from his outside lavatory, and bisecting the island's railway line and its ancient locomotive lengthways. The prime minister of Gaillardia (Peter Sellers) is a shifty character whose main interest is in enriching himself and his relatives and who changes sides as it suits him. When first news of events on the former colony reaches the British foreign office, no one even knows where the island is: officials race to the wall map and search the south Atlantic and Pacific oceans (shades of the Falklands crisis, two decades later...) The British official given responsibility for protection of British interests on the island is one Cadogan de Vere Carlton-Browne (Terry-Thomas), an upper-class twit who holds his post only because he is son of a retired British ambassador, and who is responsible for 'miscellaneous territories'. He knows nothing about the island and can't even speak the language; when he realises that the islanders don't speak English, he resorts to French, the only foreign language he knows. Yet he is eventually decorated by the young king of Gaillardia for his services, and given a knighthood back in England. The British troops have no idea what they are supposed to be doing on the island, and end up attacking each other. The Foreign Secretary (Raymond Huntley) is a weak character completely out of his depth. All the characters are convincingly played and the whole scenario is horribly, hilariously believable. This film should be compulsory viewing for anyone working in the UK foreign office, especially if they are about to take up the post of Foreign Secretary.
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