It's the one where a sweet little community in central London uncovers an ancient treasure trove underneath a World War Two bombsite, and with it legal proof that they are in fact a province of Burgundy. Upon hearing this news, the locals waste no time in making the most of their status as foreigners, quickly abandoning the rules and restrictions of life in England in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. The pub abandons licensing hours and stays open past half past ten, clothes in expensive materials go on sale without recourse to rationing coupons, gambling becomes legal and, most notably, an army of entrepreneurial market traders descend in their dozens to make a killing selling black market tobacco and jellied eels.
In short, Pimlico becomes a great place to live, and inevitably, this is cause for much alarm among the British government (some things never change). Before long everyone is at the mercy of border controls and trading sanctions. A stand-off soon takes place, a battle of the underdog vs stuffy authority, all undertaken in a very specific attitude of Englishness: as one character puts it: "We've always been English and we'll always be English; and it's precisely because we are English that we're sticking up for our right to be Burgundians!"
It's all very quaint and quietly amusing. Many stalwarts of the era put in an appearance, including Stanley Holloway as the ringleader of the ‘Burgundians’ and Margaret Rutherford as an endearingly eccentric academic, among the usual roll-call of stuffy bank-managers, jovial policemen and comely shopkeepers’ daughters.
Passport to Pimlico is a sweet and likeable film, though it has to be said, a little too slight and knowingly parochial, not quite of the same calibre as later classics such as Kind Hearts and Coronets, the Ladykillers or the Man in the White Suit. Those films have a mischievous and darker edge that has better weathered the ravages of time. Still, it’s impossible not to be won over by the wholesome cheerfulness on display here (and who could blame them, coming so close after surviving a world war?)
The film also features some fascinating on-location footage of London in the 1940s, particularly during a sequence in which the children evacuated from the area keep up with the latest developments by visiting a West End news theatre, which makes amusing use of contemporary newsreel footage
At the end of the opening credits, there is a dedication to the end of rationing, though this would actually still be a long way off in 1949. After the fun of living under the ‘Duchy of Burgundy’ the folk of Pimlico are relieved to return to the stringent world of post-war austerity Britain, ‘Never thought I’d be happy to see one of these again’, remarks one character on receiving a fresh ration book. As the UK of today delves ever further into a new age of austerity, Passport to Pimlico offers a comforting message: maybe things ain’t so bad after all.
As well as a limited release in the cinemas, the new DVD and blu-ray release features a slack handful of features that almost qualifies it for the 'special edition' tag. Best among them is a short featurette illustrating the locations used in the film, pointing out the various landmarks that are still standing, including a lamppost that’s been listed on account of its appearance in the film. There's also a poster and stills gallery, an informative interview with film expert Mark Duguid and an intriguing before-and-after montage illustrating the benefits of this new remastered print.