Austerity Chic in the U.K.





In the ocean of multinational praise still swelling around last year’s Big British Movie, “The King’s Speech,” a lone curmudgeon’s dinghy managed to bob its way onto the waters of consent. The review, not surprisingly, came from France. “Here is but the latest manifestation of British narcissism,” grumbled Thomas Sotinel, a reviewer for Le Monde. “It can be summarized thusly: We are ugly and boring, but, by Jove! We are right!”

We get the ugly/boring part: in “The King’s Speech,” we see a dun-colored England, between the wars. The wallpaper peels valiantly. Austerity will soon beget more austerity, and sex has not yet been invented. But the bit about being right also struck me as particularly, well, correct: not just about this film, but about the strain of rations-book-era nostalgia currently coursing through Britain. It’s a cultural moment and movement for which “The King’s Speech” — which consolidated its dominance with 12 Oscar nominations and 4 wins, including Best Picture — can be taken as a kind of introduction.

The slogan for this movement is “Keep Calm and Carry On,” lifted from the wartime Ministry of Information poster that’s now standard décor in a certain kind of British starter loft. The current mascot? The newly laid-off City suit tending to winter swedes (a type of rutabaga) in an allotment plot he may or may not refer to as his “personal victory garden.” He’s aching to benevolently lecture anyone who will listen about simple frugal pleasures and the true meaning of community. His shelves are lined with books like “The British Home Front Pocket-Book,” a recently published compendium of wartime information leaflets, and Patricia Nicol’s “Sucking Eggs: What Your Wartime Granny Could Teach You About Diet, Thrift and Going Green,” a title that pretty much sums up the current bring-back-the-National-Loaf-State feel....


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