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Friends and Neighbors Too

When the Wind Blows

By Jimmy Murakami & Raymond Briggs 

6 Jun, 2024

Big Hair, Big Guns!


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1986’s When the Wind Blows is a Jimmy-Murakami-directed animated film of the Raymond Briggs nuclear war graphic novel of the same title. The score is by Roger Waters.

Retirees Jim (voiced by John Mills) and Hilda (voiced by Peggy Ashcroft) live in a picturesque cottage in rural England. Presumably, their marriage vows included the traditional promise of life-long partnership. Thanks to the rapidly warming Cold War, that promise will be fulfilled.

Note: this is not a feel-good movie.

Hilda has a household to manage and takes little interest in the greater world. Jim reads newspapers during his frequent trips to the nearby town. Jim is aware (as Hilda is not) that NATO/Warsaw Pact hostilities have brought the world to the brink of war. Many people in Jim’s position would be terrified. Jim is concerned but not terrified.

Jim’s faith is based on two sturdy foundations. First, he remembers the Second World War. WWII was a wonderful time when people across the UK came together in the crisis, triumphing in the end. He is confident World War Three will be much the same.

Additionally, Jim judiciously used his time in town to collect an assortment of helpful government directives, informative documents such as Protect and Survive.

True, some of the advice is confusing and some of the advice seems contradictory. Still, Jim knows the government knows best. All he needs to do to protect himself and Hilda is follow the instructions provided.

World War Three is a brilliant success. Millions are incinerated, crushed, or otherwise ushered into their respective afterlives. Not Jim and Hilda. A nearby strike leaves their house a windowless shambles, but thanks to Jim’s makeshift shelter, Jim and Hilda survive the war unharmed.

Not all of Jim’s preparations work. For example, the glass bottles in which the couple’s emergency water was stored were shattered. The power is out for some reason, so food in the fridge will soon go off. Nevertheless, the couple have some supplies. All they need do is wait for the inevitable arrival of government relief.

No rescue arrives. The Bloggs are left to survive amid the radioactive ash as best they can. No worries! How can radiation — something they cannot even see — pose a serious threat to two naïve, rapidly declining elderly retirees?


There is a general perception that animated films are for children. Parents have been known to treat their kids to films such as the animated Watership Down or Grave of the Fireflies. I am sure that any children exposed to When the Wind Blows remembered their parents’ choice for decades. Possibly for the rest of their lives.

Many viewers might see the Bloggs as parodically naïve, as they’ve somehow reached the mid-1980s without any awareness of the implications of nuclear war1 or really, any sense that society has moved on since 1945. They might see Jim’s faith in the government as willfully foolish; as he notes, the advice doled out is contradictory and manifestly unfit for purpose. Unkind viewers might dismiss the Bloggs as hopelessly stupid.

However… as unhelpful as is the advice in which Jim places so much faith, it ensures that the Bloggs survive the immediate effects of World War Three2. Had they been outside, they might have been burned. Had they been in front of their windows, they might have been lethally injured by flying glass. While the results are not all one might hope, the Bloggs outlived millions of fellow British. Given the UK’s small size, the number of warheads with which it would be targeted, and the absence of substantial shelters, Jim achieved about as much as he could have hoped to achieve.

Additionally, it’s not clear what benefits a more informed comprehension would have granted the Bloggs. As it is, it’s only as they are in the final stages of radiation sickness that the truth becomes undeniable. The Bloggs’ last days were as enjoyable as they were in large part because they lacked the ability to understand their plight.

Viewers on the other hand will almost certainly understand what’s going on3. To the degree that they find the Bloggs sympathetic — and both the script and actors do their very best to ensure the audience is on the Bloggs’ side — the events of the film are tragic. While the animation eschews graphic violent death, allusive horror is often more effective, as this movie demonstrates. There have been relatively few British nuclear war films; it’s notable that many of them are masterpieces. When the Wind Blows is one such work.

When the Wind Blows is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), and here (Barnes & Noble). I did not find When the Wind Blows at Apple Books (or Apple TV), Chapters-Indigo, or Words Worth Books. The Canadian Blu-Ray is weirdly expensive. 

1: Presumably, the Bloggs never saw On the Beach, The War Game, or 1984’s Threads. How have I not reviewed Threads?

Some people watching two adorable old people based on the author’s parents suffer a bewildering, painful death will wonder just how close they were to the explosion that killed them.

Nukemap suggests that if the nearest detonation had been an 800 kt airstrike, it could have been as far as 20 km away. If it were a ground burst, it could have been as close as 10+ km; that would put the Bloggs just outside the radius of significant thermal damage. The film reveals that the Bloggs can smell what they take to be BBQ pork (when it’s long pig), which suggests that the deceased might have been exposed to a ground burst. The Blogg’s short lifespans after the war are consistent with a 5,000-rem radiation dose.

2: Perhaps the Bloggs’ son Ron, who lives… well, lived… in London could be considered lucky in that he must have died rather quickly. Although perhaps not as quickly as he might have liked.

3: Some of the original viewers of this film might have been expecting something along the lines of Brigg’s light-hearted film The Snowman. Those people must have had an interesting a viewing experience, just like those members of the My Neighbor Totoro premiere audience who stuck around for the other half of the premier double bill, Grave of the Fireflies.