It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

When most people think of Ealing Studios they think of the comedies – Whisky Galore!, Passport to Pimilico and so on. Very few would think of Film Noir but that the best description of It Always Rains on Sunday (dir. Robert Hamer, 1947). It features a woman, Rose Sandigate, (Googie Withers) who helps her former lover, Tommy Swann (John McCallum)  who has escaped from prison, thus jeopardising her family life because of her sexual desires and a fair amount of shadowy shots. So far so noir but this is British Noir. It isn’t about glamour. Set in and around Bethnal Green, much of the action takes place in Petticoat Lane and gives a realist snapshot of post-war Britain, cheese rations and blackout material included. It Always Rains on Sunday

The action all takes place on one Sunday (which as the title suggests is a rainy one) and begins with a normal family waking up and going about their business, with a fair amount of bickering. Little do they know that the matriarch’s past is about to come back to shatter their peace. At the start it appears that there are several disjointed storylines – the escaped convict, the unhappily married woman, her step-daughters’ love lives, the local criminal networks and the unfaithful band leader. Hamer takes these storylines and weaves them into a story that although complex is brilliantly executed and brings to the fore Jack Warner as Detective Sergeant Fothergill who is occupied trying to find Tommy Swann and also one by one arresting the gang of crooks. Largely through their own incompetence.

The film culminates with a very good chase sequence which acts like a needle, sewing up all the loose ends until the film comes to a bleak and real ending, much more akin to the Kitchen Sink dramas of the late fifties and sixties than the Ealing comedies we know.

There are several recognisable Ealing comedy moments including the neighbour disturbing Rose whilst she smuggles Tommy into her house to discuss the meat they are each having for Sunday lunch or the fact the central gang of crooks have bungled a warehouse raid and ended up with a truck load of Roller Skates.

This surprising film deserves to takes its place next to the finest post-war British films.


Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis
Meet Me in St. Louis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*Contains Spoilers*

I remembered Meet Me in St Louis as a nice film with Judy Garland and that song about a trolley. It is a nice film with Judy Garland and it does have The Trolley Song (Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley. Ding, Ding, Ding goes the bell. Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell. – try getting that out of your head now) but it is far far funnier than I had any recollection of. Directed by Vincente Minnelli Meet Me In St Louis is set at the time of the Lousianna Purchase Exposition’s World Fair coming to St Louis, Missouri.

The story centres around the Smith family and predominantly the eldest girls’ desire to get married. Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) Smith are the original rules girls. They yearn for romance and fantasise over the objects of their affections. Plotting to get their men:

Rose: Oh, Es, isn’t he simply enchanting? And so mature!

Esther: Well, how did it happen? Where did you meet?

Rose: I was coming out of the shop and he was coming in. We bumped into each other!

Esther: Accidentally?

Rose: Almost!

But then feigning indifference when Warren (Robert Sully) phones in the much anticipated long distance phone call which is supposed to contain a proposal to Rose.

Rose follows the rules to the letter:

Warren: Wait, Rose! We still have… 36 more seconds!

Rose: I have an engagement. I think I can hear Joe’s voice, now?

Charlotte York from Sex and The City couldn’t have played the game better (maybe when it is referred to in the first SATC film there is more to it than Jennifer Hudson’s character coming from there).

I’m not sure 1944 audiences would have found all the same jokes funny but most don’t date, partly due to the historical setting of the film. I expect the 1944 audience also must have thought a small girl, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), killing off her dolls and burying them in the cemetery was a little bonkers. When she decapitates the snowmen it is also all a bit surreal, but even disturbed children are hilarious in this film and there are so many one liners and quips that we laughed throughout.

Plot wise this is largely about the elder sisters falling in love whilst making comments on family and home. Being made in 1944 I can’t help but wonder what place in America’s official wartime narrative it had. I guess comedy boosted morale and there is some social commentary on the family, largely the role of the father or rather the lack of role of the father. Poor Alonso Smith (Leon Ames) is kept in the dark about pretty much everything his family does, he might as well be away. Grandpa (Harry Davenport) puts it well “Your papa’s not supposed to know. It’s enough we’re letting him work hard every day to support the whole flock of us. He can’t have everything”

Of course it is the songs which get in your head both the Trolley Song and the eponymous Meet Me In St Louis are catchy. The Trolley Song and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas give Judy Garland the chance of two big solos but there is none of the star posturing you might expect. There are other solo songs, including Over the Banister which suggests the domestic confines Esther feels while looking at the promise of love with the boy next door. Early on Esther is shown as a modern woman in the exchange with Rose:

Esther: I’m going to let John Truett kiss me tonight.
Rose: Esther Smith.
Esther: Well, if we’re going to get married, I may as well start it.
Rose: Nice girls don’t let men kiss them until after they’re engaged. Men don’t want the bloom rubbed off.
Esther: Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that’s the trouble with me.

When Judy Garland sings she is incredible and floors the rest of the cast but it isn’t entirely about her, Tootie and Agnes (Joan Carroll) supply most of the comedy with Tootie frequently stealing the show.

The historical setting of the film is interesting, allowing not only an escape from the realities of war but also because it is full of the folklore of St Louis in the songs and the scenes such as the throwing of flour on Halloween. However whilst it feels very different to the films set in 1944 it is worth remembering that it is only 40 years after the world fair. There is a nod to the speed the US has developed.

Oh and in case you are wondering whether it is Louis sounding like Lewes or Louis sounding like Louie then Tootie thinks she has the answer (she is the only one who thinks this):

Mr. Neely the Iceman: Well, I got a cousin who spells it the same way, and we call him “Louie”.

Tootie : He’s isn’t a city though, is he?

Mr. Neely the Iceman: No…

Tootie: Is he a saint?

Mr. Neely the Iceman: Uh, no.

Tootie: Then there’s no comparison.

If you want to be cheered up, have a laugh and aren’t too worried about the plot then this is the film for you.

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the Fair
Don’t tell me the lights are shining
Anyplace but there

Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca never seems to date. Watching this at the BFI the audience was totally absorbed and clapped at the end, although I am sure most had seen it before. I ought to declare that this film has been amongst my favourites for at least 20 years and I don’t see it leaving that list any time soon. It may well have been a large reason for my choice of dissertation topic – “A Kiss is Still a Kiss: Women and Romance in British Cinema during World War Two” (I know it isn’t British but believe me it was why I chose it).

A film that has influenced filmmakers from the Marx Brothers (A Night in Casablanca (1946)) to Woody Allen (Play it Again Sam (1972)) and has provided possibly some of the most famous movie quotes (or misquotes) of modern times it is unsurprising that its 70th anniversary is being marked around the world but if you haven’t seen it then why should you? “Yes, indeed, the Warners here have a picture which makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap.” – New York Times critic Bosley Crowther (My favourite film critics name) upon its release.

This film has it all. Glamour, adventure and buckets of romance all offering a clear wartime message. They really don’t make them like this any more. It is based on a play Everybody Come’s to Rick’s which was written by Murray Burnett, a New York high school teacher and Joan Alison, a socialite. Burnett was inspired to write it after a visit to Europe before 1939 during which he saw a black pianist in a bar called La Belle Aurore entertaining refugees from across Europe on their way to Casablanca. (Lebo, H. 1992). Warner Brothers turned the play into Casablanca, keeping many of the themes and the central character of Rick Blaine. Originally it was planned to be released in summer 1943 but as rumours of a US landing in North Africa, specifically Casablanca, started circulating the studio sped up release and the film’s premier was on 26th November 1942. 19 days after the Allies landed in North Africa. The film was a patriotic masterpiece.

Of particular interest to me is the fact this film epitomises the change in the portrayal of romance in both British and American films. During the pre-war years screwball comedies such as His Girl Friday (1940) and It Happened One Night (1934) were the typical romantic stories. Strong women meeting with men and ending up together (not unlike some modern romcoms). However the wartime message is one of sacrifice to be made for the greater good or as Rick (Humphrey Bogart) puts it “… The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Underlying the entire plot is the suggestion that without Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) Victor Laszlo won’t be able to do his work to subvert the Germans and he is vital to the resistance across Europe. The message is clear. Now is not a time for romance, it is a time for putting the war effort first. Indulging in romantic fantasy was selfish and un-patriotic and Casablanca was a reminder that sacrifices have to be made for the greater good, as much part of the official narrative as films such as A Yank in the RAF (1941).

Throughout the film modern audiences are amazed at the themes discussed. Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) has escaped a Nazi concentration camp and there are many references to the Gestapo and German brutality. One can only imagine the effect the scene where Laszlo instructs the band to play La Marseillaise as the Germans are singing had on rousing contemporary audiences.

There is humour, not least in the pickpocket and general corruption and there is glamour. Largely brought to the screen by Ingrid Bergman. She is shot like a star. Often dressing in white (as is Bogart) so she literally seems to glow on the screen while all around her are dressed in duller colours. Her hats are something else, allowing her to look out from under them. In fact Bergman’s part is all about the glances and lingering looks. The eyes have it.

Music also plays an important role. Dooley Wilson plays Sam who provides most of the music as well as being Rick’s one true friend. The previously mentioned playing of La Marseillaise is one of the more powerful scenes in the film but As Time Goes By is the signature tune. Its lyrics* contain the essence of the story being played out on screen. The message is that love continues, even with a background of war. A reassurance, perhaps, that love will endure whilst the audience focuses on the war effort.

“And when two lovers woo
They still say, “I love you.”
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by.”

If you get the chance to see Casablanca then do. It may well start a love affair that lasts As Time Goes By (Sorry couldn’t resist).

Crowther, B. (1942) Casablanca (1942), New York Times Retrieved 19/2/2012

Lebo, H. (1992) Casablanca: Behind the Scenes. New York: Simon & Schuster

*Lyrics to As Time Goes By:

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.
And when two lovers woo
They still say, “I love you.”
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by.
Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date.
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate.
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny.
It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die.
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.
Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.
© 1931 Warner Bros. Music Corporation, ASCAP

The Descendants (2011)

Teaser poster for the Descendants - source WikipediaBilled as a film where George Clooney plays a father who is struggling to connect to his daughters while his wife lies comatosed in hospital I wasn’t expecting that much. I thought, despite being written and directed by the great Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt and Sideways), it would be a typical saccharine American story of a man “finding” himself but it was much much better than that. It wasn’t just about his immediate family crisis but also about the important role we all have in protecting our heritage. “The Descendants” of the title are not just his children but the descendants of his great-great grandparents, the son of a missionary who had married a Hawaiian princess. There is a large extended family who have been left land in trust which has slowly been sold off leaving one large area. They must decide what to do with this land. Matt King (George Clooney) is the executor of the trust which his cousins and their forebears have benefitted from over previous generations, ultimately he must decide what to do. At one point Matt’s narration suggests his family is like an archipelago ” all separate, but parts of the same whole and also drifting apart.” He also reflects that while appearing to be a paradise Hawaii isn’t. Life and its problems goes on even when you live in beautiful surroundings.

Back in his immediate family his eldest daughter, seventeen year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), has clearly had a wild adolescence filled with drugs, alcohol and unsuitable men  and his younger daughter, ten year old Scottie (Amara Miller), has a precociousness which mixed with an “advanced” vocabulary belie a few issues. Matt has been emotionally removed from the family for what appears to be several years, he describes himself as the backup parent, working in his legal practice and leaving the parenting to his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie). Early on he acknowledges that the last time he had been alone with Scottie was seven years previously when she was three. Because he has been working he quite simply doesn’t know his daughters or, as it transpires. his wife.

A lot has been made of Clooney’s performance. I don’t know if it is his best (Goodnight and Good Luck is pretty impressive as is Syriana) but it is good. It is just the right balance of understated emotion, humour and tenderness. You can believe this is a man who is feeling real pain, angst and who believes in his bloodline. Of course he is always very pleasant to watch so that helps with any performance he gives! (OK that may belie a total lack on impartiality but if he was bad I would say).

Payne’s other films all centre around men in crisis and so it is no surprise that this is really what this is about. Adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings book by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. There is a point where this film feels like a travelogue for Hawaii and it certainly works as it looks beautiful but otherwise this is well crafted, slowly bringing the story to its conclusion. Payne acknowledges the fragility of life and human relationships but also remindsus we are part of a chain going back thousands of years and which (we hope) will go on for thousands more. Without using the usual sledgehammer often applied to these tales The Descendants shows us that money has little value in the face of loss, families and heritage. Don’t go and watch this to be cheered up, although it is at time funny it is also heartbreaking. The Descendants is a film which I like even more now I can reflect on it than I did when I was watching it.

What people watched at the cinema in world war two.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Image via Wikipedia

As shown in my post on cinema-going in wartime despite the potential threat to life and limb people needed to occupy themselves and people flocked to the cinema. According to Kinematograph Weekly’s annual round ups (Table 1) the most popular films at the British box office were often melodramas and part of the counter-narrative. Few of the critically acclaimed films such as Millions Like Us appear in the listing with only This Happy Breed featuring.

Although it doesn’t appear on the Kinematograph Weekly’s list, the most popular film released in the UK during World War Two was Gone with the Wind which showed continuously between April 1940 and D-Day. It remains the most successful film of all time at the British Box Office[1] (BFI 2004). The Wicked Lady is often considered a wartime film despite featuring in the list in 1946. It was produced during the war and was the most successful of the Gainsborough melodramas.

Year Biggest Winner(s) Best British film
1940 Rebecca Convoy
1941 49th Parallel 49th Parallel
1942 Mrs Miniver The First if the Few
1943 In Which We Serve,Casablanca, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Hello Frisco Hello, The Black Swan, The Man in Grey In Which We Serve
1944 For Whom the Bell Tolls, This Happy Breed, Song of Bernadette, Going My Way, This Is the Army, Jane Eyre, The Story of Dr. Wassell, Cover Girl, White Cliffs of Dover, Sweet Rosie O’Grady, The Sullivans, Fanny by Gaslight This Happy Breed
1945 The Seventh Veil The Seventh Veil
1946 The Wicked Lady The Wicked Lady

Table 1: British Box Office Information, 1940 – 1950[2] (Lant 1991, 231-233)

The Seventh Veil
Image via Wikipedia

It is clear a large number of the most popular films  were American and the idea that American films could be the films consumed in Britain was something to be feared during the pre-war years

Of all people they [Americans] are closest to ourselves in mind and spirit. But to allow these cousins of ours to put a stranglehold on this fundamental power of national expression, which is the British cinema, is carrying blood-relationship a trifle too far.

Editorial essay  1937

The reasons for the appeal of American films included in large part the perceived glamour. Something that the films produced by Gainsborough Pictures began to address. They signified an increase in escapism. The importance of glamour in British wartime cinema will be explored in later posts.

[1] This is in terms of tickets sold.

[2] Due to the lack of British Cinema statistics this table is taken from Kinematograph Weekly’s  annual survey, compiled by R.H. “Josh” Billings and collated in Antonia Lant’s Book Blackout


BFI. 2004. The Ultimate Film, 4/9/2006 2004 [cited 03/07/2010 ]. Available from

Editorial essay. 1937. World Film News (No. 8):5.

Lant, Antonia. 1991. Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

The First Born (1928)

Silent, black and white and full of drama. Not The Artist but The First Born, a British film made in 1928 and with all the drama and suspense of any film out today. Directed and written by Miles Mander, based on his play. Mander is the lead Sir Hugo Boycott, Madeleine Carroll his wife Madeleine and John Loder is David, Lord Harborough. All give great performances with the requisite over the top gestures and dramatic looks.

This is a tale of adultery, deceit and double standards with twists you don’t expect. All to a backdrop of English Manor houses and political intrigue. Who needs Downton Abbey with all this lurking in the archives? It also has one of the best death scenes in cinema. Whereas The Artist is all about staircases (one day I will bore you with a long post about staircases in The Artist) it is doors which feature in First Born, everything happens with the use of the door. You can even tell which house they are in by the door.

It is the story of a caddish aristocrat who marries a beautiful young woman but when she doesn’t provide an heir he leaves for Africa. She then sets in motion a plan winger him back. Little does she know what she has started. A lot of the narrative is moved forward by letters and telegrams which works very well.

There are many things that are questionable about this film to modern eyes, the depiction of Africans and the giving a child a pipe to smoke to name just a couple. However the storyline and film techniques seem well ahead of their time.

The BFI have restored First Born as part of a project to restore films from the hey day of silent cinema in the UK. Part of the restoration included matching a 16mm print with the 35mm orignal and there are a few points where there are slit jumps however by using shot-by-shot analysis the amazing team at the BFI have met the challenge and delivered a film of great quality.

Jess and I saw this at the BFI with a live score written by Stephen Horne performed by himself (piano, flute and accordion), Janey Miller (oboe) and Martin Pyne (tuned percussion). The score appears perfect, it reflects what is happening on screen and doesn’t give anything away. I am amazed at the skill of fitting a piece to match the film so well.

Watching this made me think again – what is film? Without words you are transfixed to the screen because everything that is happening is happening visually. It is aided by the score but without the images the score is just some nice music. We didn’t need anything else to know what was happening. I have seen a fair few silent films over the years but this is the first original silent film I have seen at the cinema and it is at the cinema that the experience really hits home. Nothing can distract you and you are immersed in the pictures.

Of course the experience of watching silent films in the 1920s would have been quite different, reports suggest people chatted while watching and, as continued for many years, they came and went throughout the film so they may have come in 20 minutes before the end.

I think one of the most interesting things about The First Born was that it had a Hitchcockian feel to it. The focus on eyes, the use of psychology and many shots I can’t mention without ruining the plot. The thing is Hitchcock’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the credits however Miles Mander worked with Hitchcock and Alma Reville produced the scenarios alongwith Mander and she is otherwise known as Mrs Alfred Hitchcock. It makes me think back to arguments about Auteur Theory. It is well known Reville was Hitchcock’s closest collaborator but how much did they influence each other’s work?If you are lucky enough to get the chance to watch this on the big screen I suggest you don’t hesitate.

Cinema-going in Wartime

During the research for my dissertation I looked at the experience of cinema-going in wartime and unearthed some great quotes from contemporary resources about why cinema was so popular.

It has been well documented that cinema was at is most popular during world war two with admissions rising from 990 million in 1939 to 1585 million in 1945 (Browning and Sorrell 1954, 134) Browning attributes the increase in admissions of nearly fifty per cent between 1940 and 1943 to the financial prosperity of the British public due to full employment and the lack of other ways of spending money (1954, 135). His view is backed up by Wallace (1941)

The war has made no difference to the cinema-going of my friends. Everyone I know has ample “pocket” money so that the loss of matinee prices does not affect them much. Actually they tend to go to the cinema more in the evening as there is no advantage to get there before 3 o’clock as there used to be. I go to the cinema just as many times as I used to before the war, on an average, during 1939, one visit to every 10 days. Sometimes I go twice a week and then not for a fortnight, varying with the quality of the releases.

While this certainly explains some economic reasons for the upturn in attendance the desire for escapism appears to be a reason as valid as the economic ones as people wouldn’t have paid repeatedly to see films they didn’t enjoy. The high level of admissions and mass observation contributions (Richards and Sheridan 1987) suggest that many people saw films more than once.

I like the cinema because I get ideas, ideas about politics, make-up, wit, life, service – in fact, you go in and you don’t know what you are coming out with. One might come out with a new hair-style, or a solution to the world’s problems.

Have seen as many as three films in a day, and don’t feel tired. If there is a double feature programme and there is one film I don’t want to see, I time it so that I do not have to sit through the one I don’t want to.

(Cross, Beryl. 1940)

People commented that the war had made people more vocal while watching a film:

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...
Image via Wikipedia
Wartime cinema audiences are definitely more responsive than they were before the war, except possibly for the short period immediately before the outbreak. With regard to chorus-singing, for instance. People will sing perfectly happily in a music-hall, and extremely unwillingly in a cinema, yet, when I went to one of our larger local cinemas on the evening of Sept. 2nd, everyone, myself included, bawled happily at the tops of their voices. This chorus-singing, mainly with an organ, is catered for to a much larger extent since the war….
To sum up, it would appear that the war has made the cinema more popular, especially for afternoon and early evening entertainment, but it has also made it dearer. However, in their rush for enjoyment, the audiences have not lost their interest in the films they see. They are just as critical, and certainly much more carefree whilst they are in the cinema. Hence the chorus-singing1. In fact as far as the general public is concerned, the war will probably do the cinema good rather than harm.
(Carley, R. 1940.)

Children, by the way, are amused at the sight of any Germans “Goose Stepping,” they shout with decisive laughter. They also boo loudly at any picture of Hitler.

(Ausden, 1940)

Not everybody appreciated the increased interaction in the cinema  ‘there is much more clapping, cat-calling, whistling during a feature film. This can be directly connected to the enormous numbers of evacuee children and of soldiers now billeted in this neighbourhood.’ (Wallace 1940, 5) It is difficult to know if the bad behaviour was directly attributable to the influx of soldiers and evacuees but another Mass Observation correspondent commented on increased noise at her local cinema:

‘…there is now a strong “Foreign” element of Welsh,MidlandandNorth countryfolk (the result of the trainee system). These keep the cinemas in a state of continual murmur… if a film goes wrong, even a momentary blackout, the whistling and catcalls are very nasty. We ‘natives’ sit quietly to wait for the film to go on, knowing that operators cannot hear anything in their ‘box’ and not wishing to fluster them as they mend a broken film. But the noise now is really disgusting, though the films are listened to more quietly.’

(Ausden 1940)

The increased interaction led to some interesting reactions to newsreels …

Quite a different aspect of people’s rather free-and-easy attitude in the cinema was shown by the fact that quite large numbers of the audience booed and hissed when Hitler appeared on the screen. Rude remarks were shouted too such as “I’d like to wring his bloody neck”, and “Pity somebody doesn’t bump him off.” These, however, have died down not, although there are occasional humorous remarks when any members of the German Government appear on the screen. The sudden outburst of songs and jokes about them have made the German Cabinet appear to the average man in this country to be a secondary “Crazy Gang.

(Carlyle, 1940)

Even when escaping to the cinema the public was reminded that this was a war very much on British shores not in a distant land. Cinemas displayed notices advising that the programme would continue during air raids and each cinema had an Air Raid Warden attached to it. Some managers stopped showing the warnings because they felt it turned people away.

Well, one evening I was sitting in the gallery just behind a party, I should say a son and his wife and his mother, the mother coming to the pictures for the first time since the war broke out, and obviously the old girl had got out of herself. Then came this air raid warning notice. And within five minutes they had left the theatre. May be they had seen the programme round. I don’t know. But as soon as they saw that notice they became very quiet and within five minutes they had left. Now it’s been cut out.


Once the air raids began it was clear many would stay and watch the film. Len England1 reported

It is true that less than one fifth of patrons leave on hearing that a warning has been sounded – observation and official pronouncement agree on this point – and it is also true that many people go into the cinema when the warning is heard.


As the war continued people became more immune to bombs falling as this conversation overheard on 25/9/1940 shows:

S: The other night when we were in the cinema the sirens went and the manager said his little peace [sic] and I don’t think one person left. I tried to see because Graham always likes to know.

F: I’m not surprised, when this trouble started quite a number left, but now I’ve noticed hardly anyone leaves, after all one is as safe in a cinema as out in the streets.

S: Unless a direct hit occurs on the building.

F: That might happen anywhere, even when one is in a shelter, though I saw Tussauds cinema last week and there wasn’t much of it left.

S: Oh well, I’m never going to leave until I’ve seen the program right through.

(Mass Observation  Film 17/2/H)

Some cinema-goers were sceptical before the bombs started falling about whether it would be sensible to stay in the cinema during an air raid:

“A good cinema is not necessarily a good air raid shelter, and a bomb on a cinema-full of people would make a nasty mess.

(Carley 1940)

What these quotes show is that the experience of escaping the war was important to boosting morale and this is demonstrated by the fact people chose to stay there rather than go to air raid shelters.


Ausden, Joyce. 1940. Film Report. Mass Observation Archive TC17 M36Box1.

Browning, H.E., and A.A. Sorrell. 1954. Cinema and cinema-going in Great Britain. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A (General) 11:133-165.

Carley, Robert. 1940. Report on the War and the Cinema – observations. In Mass Observation Archive TC17 M36-50 Box 1.

England, Len. 1939. Interview with the manager of the Classic Cinema, Tooting. Mass Observation Archive TC17Box4.

———. 1940. Note on the Film Trade. Mass Observation Archive TC17Box2.

Wallace, G.L. 1940. The Cinema in Wartime. Mass Observation TC17 Box 1 page 5.

1 Len England was responsible for Mass Observation’s film work and after the war became acting director of the project.

The Iron Lady (2011)

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher
Image via Wikipedia

This is a masterful performance by Meryl Streep in a film I found incredibly uncomfortable to watch at times. This film doesn’t pull punches. It will not turn anybody into a Tory and if anything there were reminders for me of exactly why her politics and mine are so far apart but it is the use of her hallucinating as a narrative device and talking to her dead husband, Dennis, which made me uncomfortable. Flashbacks are a traditional method of creating a narrative in films such as this but she is a woman who is still alive and the method used to create them is supposition and detracts from the excellent biopic. For once I agree with Cameron (words I never thought I would utter) it is too soon.

As a biopic this is a fine piece of work. The scenes of a young Margaret (Alexandra Roach) fighting against sexism and class prejudice are well played as are the scenes of her and young Dennis’s (Harry Lloyd) blossoming romance. There are moments in the Streep scenes where the resemblance to Thatcher is incredible. Some of the shots of her amongst a sea of men or sitting alone remind us just what she achieved by getting into power but how isolated she was against the old boys network. When she first arrives in parliament we are shown her going to the ladies restroom.It is deserted except for an iron and ironing board.

We are reminded through a mix of archive footage and recreated scenes of just what her time in power did although the long term effects of privatisation and other policies aren’t mentioned as there is a gap in the film between her leaving office and her hallucinating. The similarities between the early eighties and today are hammered home with riots, strikes and recession. The scenes where she orders the sinking of the Belgrano are chilling. This is no humanising film. However these scenes are based on fact. We know from contemporary accounts and memoirs that these things happened. The hallucinating is fantasy and that is where I feel the film falls down. This is a woman who is still alive. Who still attends social functions. I can see that the flashback technique was useful and maybe in 30 years it wouldn’t seem so odd. In fact as a device I think flashback is great. It works well in many films and there is no reason why it couldn’t have worked here.

Jim broadbent (Dennis) and Olivia Colman (Carol) give excellent supporting performances which highlight the difficulties of living with someone as single minded as Thatcher. When Carol is trying to help her aged mother but she asks for Mark repeatedly it is so sad.

If you want a depiction of ageing and dementia or Alzheimer’s watch Iris. That is amazing. If you want to see excellent acting from some of the finest actors in the world then this is brilliant but beware the hallucination scenes. If they’d stuck to the facts then this would have been a great film.

Why David Cameron is wrong about the British Film Industry

Apparently the British film industry should make more commercially successful films. This is according to that great film expert … David Cameron.

As far as I know he has no experience of the film industry. He was speaking ahead of the publication of Lord Smith’s report into the British film industry but his comments betray a terrible lack of any understanding of film.

“Our role should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions,” -David Cameron quoted in the Daily Telegraph

How can you tell if a film will be commercially successful? Surely the only British films of recent times which had a predictable success were the Harry potter franchise. if Cameron can tell us he would be an even richer man than he is now.

Well Mr Cameron British film is successful. It generates a £4bn contribution to the British economy (BBC) every year. This is not insignificant. Between 2008 and 2010 £783 million was invested by public bodies (BFI p.165). This isn’t a bad return on investment.

The point of creativity is that sometimes the unexpected is a huge success (King’s Speech, Inbetweeners, Slumdog Millionaire …) the people behind these films all gained skills from working on less successful films. The only way to produce commercially successful films is to give people the chance to write, act, film and have a go at film making. Take risks and it will pay off. Try and only back the winning film and you will fail.

What Cameron seems to be suggesting is funding will only go to films which are guaranteed box office receipts. Is he suggesting that they will follow prescriptive guidelines? Will scripts have to be ok’d by the government. The only time this has happened in the British film industry is during the second world war when the Ministry of Information approved scripts and even suggested themes to be included in film:

1. What Britain is fighting for
2. How Britain fights
3. The need for sacrifices if the fight is to be won

Obviously these themes were very war specific. Once the war was over the Ministry of Information stepped away from interfering. As far as I know we aren’t in a wartime situation. The need for propaganda is not there and state controlled cinema strikes me as something that comes from dictatorships such as Stalinist Russia.

However the issue with the British film industry isn’t in the production, we produce great films. It is in the distribution and exhibition. British film accounted for 24% of the British box office in 2010 (BFI) – US films accounted for 71.8% of box office yet 37.9% of films released were American and 21.4% were British. Quite simply American films get exhibited in multiplexes and British film is less likely to get that level of distribution.

There need to be opportunities for audiences to watch film so they can be successful. Film doesn’t exist without an audience (now there is a whole debate there). How often have you wanted to watch a film only to discover nowhere local to you is showing it but all the cinemas are showing the same 6 films? Sometimes in 2D AND 3D. This is what stifles commercial success not the films being produced.There are amazing independent cinemas. In Sussex The Duke of York Picturehouse, Uckfield Picturehouse and Hailsham Pavilion all show a variety of films sometimes ahead of the local multiplexes. In Lewes the cinema evenings at the All Saints offer a good chance to see films without leaving the town and this model is replicated in towns and villages across the county. What people appreciate about independent cinemas is that they do offer variety. As Ken Loach said this morning “We need more cinemas which are run by people who love film”.

Bridget Jones - A successful British Film

The Artist (2011)

No words can really do justice to this film. It is both a love film and a love letter to film. It is beautiful. We cried, we laughed, we jumped and at the end we clapped.

It is a film about silent, black and white films. It is silent (well almost entirely) and it is black and white. This I fear will put people off but don’t be put off. Get out of your comfort zone and watch it. You will not see a finer film for some time. Director Michel Hazanavicius is a genius.

This is a story that has been told before. The story of a man who is a huge star who meets a woman who wants to be a star. As her star rises, his star falls and it ends with a scene to make you want to watch it all over again.This is a story of gender reversal, ability to adapt to change and romance. All executed with style, humour and tenderness. There is an amazing scene stealing dog (Uggie), a brooding leading man (Jean Dujardin as George Valentin), a funny leading lady (Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller) and a full orchestral score by Ludovic Bource that makes you wonder why you need words. The Artist moves you in a way that cgi and speech just don’t. There’s no sex but we know there is passion. There are no loud explosions and yet we jumped out of our seats.

Jean Dujardin seems to have channeled every matinee idol you can name. There are glimpses of Ruldolph Valentino, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Cary Grant and later stars such as Gene Kelly. Bérénice Bejo uses the physical comedy of the time to steal scenes and keep the laughs coming. It is wonderful to be reminded of a time before the second world war when women such as Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell were playing comedy roles with aplomb and matching the men for laughs.

For the film lover there are the references to films made in the years when talkies took over. Look out of tributes to Citizen Kane in the breakfast scenes, Singin’ in the Rain and A Star is Born throughout and film noir symbolism (the use of mirrors to show a certain duplicity is straight out of many noir films).

The Artist raises the question: What is film? Is it actually the experience of watching moving images and did we lose something when Al Jolson sang in The Jazz Singer? This is all about the visual. All about experiencing the images. Even the inter-titles are sparsely used. The few words and sounds uttered are not wasted. They remind you of what we’d have missed without the coming of sound. You can’t tap dance if there is no sound.

I don’t want to give away plot points. I want to tell you all to go out and watch it and I hope after watching this nobody will say when recommended a film “oh I don’t want to watch that it is black and white.”

The Artist won’t change your life, some may say it is a whimsical (but that is what the golden age of Hollywood is all about) and it probably has more meaning for some film goers than others but it is (to quote my friend Sam) “ACE as well as being all deep.”

If you need any more convincing here is the trailer:

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