Before the Colditz myth: telling POW stories in postwar British cinema

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Before the concretization of the ‘Colditz Myth’ in the mid-1950s, British cinema's engagement with the prisoner of war (POW) narrative took unexpected generic forms. The Captive Heart (1946) and The Wooden Horse (1950) draw on the narrative conventions and structures of feeling mobilized by documentary realism, romance, melodrama, and crime. Exploring these films as hybrid genres draws attention to their capacity to symbolize a range of postwar social anxieties, in particular regarding demobilization, repatriation, and the reconstruction of peacetime masculinities. The films depict the frustration and boredom of incarceration, and build narratives of reassurance out of group and individual coping strategies. Yet, while characters might escape, the ‘duty to escape’ is not a central preoccupation: rather the films focus on the relationship between camp and home, and the reconstruction of the incarcerated male subject. Between 1946 and 1955, cinema variously imagines the prisoner of war camp as a space of holistic reconstruction, and as a site for the reconstruction of male agency through productive labour. These films, then, bear little resemblance to the war genre through which they are usually conceptualized: rather they draw on domestic tropes to examine the pressures confronting the male subject in the aftermath of war.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-282
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of War & Culture Studies
Issue number3
Early online date17 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


  • British cinema
  • Masculinity
  • Genre
  • War films
  • Structures of feeling
  • Home
  • Demobilization


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