When we think of romantic imperialism, we think of Rudyard Kipling’s poems, Winston Churchill’s The River War and perhaps Teddy Roosevelt’s macho “strenuous life” romanticized militarism (which the neocons somewhat knowingly aped to get the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003). We should also recall British movie classics like The Four Feathers and “deflationary” versions of these jingoistic notions in The Man Who Would be King. During the 1930s, the Hungarian brothers Alexander & Zoltan Korda created many classic empire-celebration films in London, such as 1935’s Sanders of the River.
The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s attack on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a kind of toxic “othering” of all Africans is a culmination of these imperial and anti-imperial tendencies.
Lastly, Maupassant’s classic Bel-Ami represents Algeria as a “colonial badlands” for French domination, killing, despoiling, profiteering, and later culminates in Meursault’s random murder of an Arab again in Algeria in Camus’ classic The Stranger. This literary concatenation also fits into this set of colonial imperial phenomena.
Niall Ferguson (the famous Harvard/Stanford “empire enthusiast”) finds his forerunner in the 1940 classic movie Beyond Tomorrow. The following “row” takes place on Christmas Eve between Chadwick (the Niall Ferguson imperialist) and Melton who sees empire as land-grabbing which you can dress up and prettify any way you like (“a grab is a grab,” he says):
Allan Chadwick: I tell you England’s territorial expansion had quite a different significance.
George Melton: No matter how thin you slice it, a grab is a grab.
Allan Chadwick: Grab?
That’s a specious term. England carried civilization into the wilderness. What was Australia before she redeemed it from the Aborigines?
Allan Chadwick: The truth is there isn’t an acre of the Empire that isn’t proud to fly the British flag.
The quick irritated exchange from Beyond Tomorrow is a good example of this eternal argument, allowing you to then “jump off” from this movie-as-university to do more exploring.