Book Chapter

"Those Frenchies Seek Him Everywhere": David Niven in Franco-British Cinematic Relations



Johnston C (2010) "Those Frenchies Seek Him Everywhere": David Niven in Franco-British Cinematic Relations. In: Mazdon L & Wheatley C (eds.) Je t’aime … moi non plus: Franco-British Cinematic Relations. Oxford: Berghahn Books, pp. 197-210.

In the decades following the end of World War II, David Niven's onscreen Englishness frequently found itself defined against a French backdrop, his star persona firmly embedded within a complex framework of Anglo-French cinematic and cultural exchanges. At a time when both countries were coming to terms with the legacy of the war and its impact on national and gender identities, whilst simultaneously adapting to the dismantling of their respective colonial empires, Niven's onscreen persona offered an outlet for "a paradoxical desire for both stability and change," (Plain 2006: 140) coupled with a parallel expression of nostalgia and anxiety. Niven achieves this through his depiction of, and indeed reliance upon, the "hegemonic form of the debonair gentleman" (Spicer 2003: 7) in a series of roles from 1950 onwards: Sir Percy Blakeney in The Elusive Pimpernel (Powell and Pressburger, 1950), Sir James Bond, brought out of retirement in the spy spoof Casino Royale (Hughes, Huston et al, 1967), and Sir Charles Litton in the Pink Panther series (1963-83) alongside Peter Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Each of these roles sees Niven embodying "the perfect gentleman, the male ideal of the British ruling classes" (Spicer 2003: 8), yet transposed to the French Riviera, to the streets of Paris, or to the snowy backdrop of the Alps. Alongside analysis of Niven's roles in these works, attention will also be paid to two films which see Niven taking on a central role in an adaptation of a French literary text, firstly as Raymond in Bonjour Tristesse (Preminger, 1958) and secondly as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days (Anderson, 1956), further illustrating the extent to which his star persona is anchored within a complex network of Anglo-French cultural exchanges. It will be the contention of this chapter that this cross-channel displacement of Niven's national identity allows for the development of an unusual form of onscreen solidarity through an Anglo-French cinematic negotiation of "postwar male restlessness" (Francis 2007: 164), perceived economic and political decline on both sides of the Channel, and the trauma of decolonisation.

David Niven; Star Studies; Franco-British Cinema; Motion pictures France History; Motion pictures, British France; Motion pictures, French Great Britain

Publication date31/12/2010
PublisherBerghahn Books
Publisher URL
Place of publicationOxford

People (1)


Dr Cristina Johnston

Dr Cristina Johnston

Senior Lecturer, French