Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

When it’s on: Sunday, 17 May (12.00 noon)
Channel: BBC2
IMDb Link

We didn’t do a lot of work in school on Robert Falcon Scott and his doomed expedition to reach the South Pole. By then, a reassessment of the explorer was underway, his status as a British hero – which had stuck since news of his valiant death was reported in 1912 – undermined by new research that asserted he failed because of his bungling. Should have relied more on dogs. Made fatal flaws during the march to the South Pole. Condemned both himself and his party because of his own mistakes. The charge sheet went on, damning Scott and ensuring we got to hear about other British legends and achievements from our teachers.

Since then, his reputation has been evaluated once again and more favourably, which is probably why Ealing’s Scott of the Antarctic has eased its way back onto the schedules, though it no longer rubs shoulders with other offerings of homegrown pluck and derring-do, such as The Dambusters. Possibly the main reason for this is that it was made (in 1948) at a time when Scott’s status was still secure and somewhat unimpeachable, leading to a work bordering on the reverential, telling the story as a straight one of adventurism and heroism with luck being the main conspirator against his effort. It’s also a strangely tension-free affair, in its narrative relying upon the natural dangers of extreme cold and blizzards rather than using storytelling to increase the sense of mounting odds. There’s little pressure amongst the actors, all blindly following John Mills’s Scott and largely accepting their fates as the likelihood of escaping with their lives diminishes to zero, long after the temperatures have dipped far below that point. Critics have argued that the job should have been given to one of the studio’s more capable directors, Alexander Mackendrick or Robert Hamer, than Charles Frend, who went for a linear approach, involving heavy emphasis on the pre-expedition fund-raising and preparations once they hit Ross Island.

But then there’s the fact that everyone who sees Scott of the Antarctic already knows how it ends. In failure, not just because they didn’t reach the South Pole first (they were beaten, by little more than a fortnight, by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who famously did depend on the power of snow resistant dogs) but the fact they paid for it with their lives. That knowledge works to create its own tension. Watching the film, you are fully aware that no matter how well Scott believes he’s preparing, all the efforts he makes, they will end up dying in a lonely tent just eleven miles short of reaching the supplies depot that could have preserved them.

And for me, the film does allude to the mistakes he made, or at least the decisions that ultimately led to the tragic events that ensued. I’m forced, watching it, to recall that the expedition took place early in the twentieth century, when Antarctica was still an unexplored land and scientific estimates of the best way to traverse it were based in part on guesswork. Easy for us now to heed the advice that it should be tackled using skis and dogs, that motorised vehicles would not work and ponies liable to struggle. No one knew for certain, though you imagine the Norwegians might have a better innate idea of how to tackle it. Scott, growing up in a Victorian era of engineering, would no doubt have felt justified in using snow vehicles fitted with revolutionary caterpillar tracks, at a time when no such things yet existed. The idea of taking ponies harked back to a previous attempt by Ernest Shackleton, which had nearly succeeded.

My impression of the cinematic Scott is that he thought he could succeed through the sheer will and determination to do so, a mindset evolved through notable British successes in conquering previously unreachable parts of the globe. Though the foreshadowing and worrying is done by the mens’ wives, notably Anne Firth as Wilson’s wife, Oriana, there’s little sense of impending danger from Scott, simply a stoical acceptance that the mission will involve hardship and risk. It’s a great examination of the British character and values, and it was prevalent in cinema at the time, that post-war mentality of rolling up one’s sleeves and carrying on.

The location shooting was a combination of stock footage taken at Graham Land, Antarctica, and the Swiss Alps, with much filming also done in the studio with fake snow and actors heavily made up to reflect the harsh conditions through which they travelled. Of the expedition members, James Robertson Justice makes for a memorable ‘Taff’ Evans, chosen to make the final push thanks to his strength yet suffering from a cut finger that leads to gangrene setting in and his death before the others met theirs. Captain Oates is played by Teddy Evans, and there’s an early role for Kenneth More as Teddy Evans, who joins the team but didn’t take part in the five-man push for the Pole.

Every effort was made to tell the story accurately, using Scott’s diaries (discovered in the tent that doubled as his grave), which Mills narrates from throughout, along with recreating the equipment and conditions that were experienced in real-life. The cinematography by Jack Cardiff is outstanding, presenting Antarctica as something close to a deathtrap, the relatively calm conditions on their way to the Pole contrasting harshly with the rising winds that follow them back. But the real star is Ralph Vaughan Williams, the British composer who rarely worked in film, but went on to produce a score that focused on the inhospitability and almost alien world the men encounter. I’m listening to it as I write this, those haunting female choirs accompanying the shots of endless icy vistas that are locked in my memory.

Is it a good film? It’s flawed, certainly. There’s too much focus on Scott’s preparations, which allows for portentous warnings of the difficulties that lie ahead, the decisions he makes that turn out to be his doom, but also makes the viewer wish they’ll reach Ross Island that bit quicker. Yet in telling the story in a style just short of documentary, it manages to say something about the flawed British spirit, men accepting their fate without getting too upset about it, all in the attempt for adventure and to attain some final frontier. Mills, all optimism and pluck before they reach the Pole, intones ‘great God, this is an awful place‘ when they reach it and are confronted with the Norwegian flag, the dog tracks surrounding it, hinting at the desolate emotion that is rarely on display elsewhere.

Scott of the Antarctic: ***

Dunkirk (1958)

When it’s on: Sunday, 22 February (2.25 pm)
Channel: ITV4
IMDb Link

Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation of stranded British soldiers off the eponymous beleaguered beach from two points of view. In one, an earthy corporal, John Mills, leads a group of squaddies to Dunkirk after they’ve been cut off from their unit in embattled northern France. Pursued by Nazis, fired upon by swarming Stukas and sometimes having to cross enemy lines as the Blitzkrieg advance is often quicker than their own movements, theirs is a desperate scramble for safety with no guarantee that reaching their comrades will make any difference. Meanwhile, back in England Bernard Lee’s journalist tries in vain to persuade the public that the so-called phoney war is exactly that, convinced this is a prelude to all-out attack and yet finding complacency among his friends, not least businessman Richard Attenborough who would rather focus on his company and new baby than anything happening across the English Channel.

I’ve discussed before on this site how well the British war films of the 1950s did at deglamourising many of the events that took place. Dunkirk was seen at the time as something of a victory, a morale boosting pulling together of resources when in reality it was the tail-end of a total debacle, and it’s this the film conveys. Whilst there are no heroes, it tells us, ordinary people were capable of heroic acts, from Mills’s ‘Tubby’ Binns, forced by rank to push his exhausted troops to the coast, to Holden (Attenborough) steadily becoming more involved in the rescue by a mixture of conscience and circumstance. At more than two hours it’s overlong, too many scenes that involve Charles (Lee) cynically telling anyone he meets that the Dunkirk rescues have needed to take place through basic incompetence, generals trying to apply World War One principles to the new conflict, when the action itself should convey this message on its own. Once the film reaches the beach, thousands of soldiers waiting around for rescue whilst the German planes attack ruthlessly, the pointlessness of it all resonates to shattering effect. Some boats make it safely out of the harbour. Others are bombed, everyone on board having to leap into the sea or die. Quickly, it becomes apparent that they’re relying increasingly on the intervention of smaller boats, like those piloted by Charles and Holden (Attenborough). Their very presence at Dunkirk is as much an indictment of outmoded military strategy in a time of lightning attacks as it is a pooling of British pluck and resolve, and of course it did make all the difference.

As a bit of added research for this piece, I rewatched Atonement, the 2007 film by Joe Wright that features some pivotal action on the beaches of Dunkirk (interestingly, these scenes were filmed in my home town, Redcar, and even takes in the facade of the old fleapit, the Regent Cinema, which I frequented often as a young ‘un). Atonement does a really impressive job at conveying the chaos and despair of Dunkirk, particularly as it’s introduced in a dazzling single take that must have been technically exhausting to produce. Yet even with the standards of 2007 allowing for a grittier and more visceral scene, it’s no more harrowing than the sights confronted by Mills and Company in the 1958 film. Worst for them is the constant harrowing from the air, the random selection of victims as the planes take their victims from so many thousands of bodies on the beach, but there’s also the collapsing line over which to worry, the awful possibility that the Nazis will break through and capture or kill everyone before they have a chance to be lifted. It’s effortlessly tense because it must have been exactly that.

Director Leslie Norman (father of film critic, Barry) had been involved in the British film industry since 1930, when as a nineteen year old he was helping out with the editing process. By the early fifties he was a producer, with The Cruel Sea standing out among his credits, and Dunkirk was a directorial effort for Ealing that showed similarly the best and worst of the studio. The latter comes in the form of bulging the content, all those superfluous moments that emphasise the contrast between attitudes at home and what’s happening abroad, not to mention the budgetary limits leading to obvious use of stock footage and models.

At the same time, my admiration for John Mills grows with every film I watch. A winner at the British box office throughout this era, his ability to convincingly portray a normal man forced by circumstance into committing exceptional acts comes across really well, his frantic efforts to get his men to safety, his rising gall upon realising that Dunkirk is little better than a death trap. Great work from a fine actor. Attenborough puts in an equally good performance, wholly convincing as a coward who hopes that the war will just happen elsewhere, away from his watch, but over time pulled in to become about as heroic as anybody. The effect is helped by the actor looking older than his years, aiming to look the comfortable English gentleman at a time of extreme distress.

Sadly, Dunkirk was a late flourish for Ealing, which had expired as an independent production company after producing a series of films that made only losses. The BBC had already bought the studio in 1955 and the production team was working under MGM by this stage, still able to bear the old Ealing logo on its films but depending on the money of Hollywood distributors. An ignominious end to the Ealing career of producer Michael Balcon, who perhaps appreciated better than most that its day in the sun was ended.

Dunkirk: ***

Hobson’s Choice (1954)

When it’s on: Wednesday, 18 February (1.05 pm)
Channel: Film4
IMDb Link

Several years ago, I bought The David Lean Collection, a set of the great British director’s films from before his international standing grew and the budgets expanded, instead showcasing his earlier directorial efforts. In many ways, the ten movies in this boxset are better than anything that came later. With less money to spend and narrower palettes upon which to craft his vision, Lean made sharper focused pictures, driven very much by their characters and working with some very fine British actors. There’s the occasional misfire; I found The Sound Barrier to be a little tedious and slow, not to mention factually inaccurate. But most are excellent, headed by the unimpeachable Brief Encounter and his definitive Dickens adaptations of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, plus the winning collaboration with Noel Coward that produced In Which We Serve and This Happy Breed.

Rubbing shoulders with these prestigious affairs is Hobson’s Choice, which maintains Lean’s high standards. It’s based on a play written by Harold Brighouse in 1915, which itself was a turn on the old expression, ‘Hobson’s Choice,’ referring to a situation where there was no real choice one could make. It had already been adapted for the screen twice before Alexander Korda approached Lean to direct this version, which he took on as a change of pace from 1952’s The Sound Barrier, a nice shift from aeronautical drama to northern comedy. Lean wanted Roger Livesey for the eponymous Hobson but got Charles Laughton instead. In hindsight a great bit of casting, and it’s difficult to picture the hoarse voiced Livesey – superb as a dramatic actor, especially for Powell and Pressburger, but less natural within comedic surroundings – as the tyrannical drunken boor who dominates the story.

As for Laughton, his career had already arced by this point. An internationally famous star, the Scarborough born Laughton had played Hobson years ago as a young man on the stage, but since then had enjoyed years of success though was beginning to wane, fortunate for the production as he had a tendency to overpower films with his presence. He was cast against Brenda de Banzie as Hobson’s eldest daughter, Maggie. Better known for her work on the stage, the native Mancunian de Banzie was perfect for the part, unwilling to be cowed by her screen father and determined to marry outside his wishes. The third major name was John Mills, almost unrecognisable as the mild-mannered shoemaker, William Mossop, but becoming more Millsian as the film progresses along with his character’s levels of confidence. Mills, again not the first choice for the role (it was originally offered to Robert Donat, who declined due to his long running problems with asthma), was uncertain about playing a Lancashire working class lad, but showed a gift for comedy and ran away with the film’s heart.

Hobson’s Choice takes place in Salford, Manchester, in 1890. Against a backdrop of satanic mills, smoking chimneys and Coronation Street accents,  Henry Hobson owns a successful bootmaker’s. We first meet him when he enters the store in the dead of night, blind drunk after another evening at the Moonraker pub, and it soon becomes clear that he has very little to do with running the shop. The boots are made with some brilliance by the unassuming Mossop, whilst it’s Hobson’s three daughters who do all the work, both within the business and for him personally. He’s not only a drunk but a terrible father to boot (sorry), declaring to his daughters that he will chose their husbands for them and showing a violent streak when the forthright Maggie opts instead for Mossop, believing that his practical skills and her business nous will make for a brilliant partnership. It does. While Will carries on doing what he does best, Maggie makes a more rounded man of him, teaching him his letters and boosting his confidence so that by the end of the film even his pudding bowl haircut has grown out. In the meantime, Hobson’s relationship with the drink continues. A brilliant comic scene sees him leave the Moonraker, pissed up, having told his drinking buddies exactly what he thinks of them, before he chases a reflection of the moon in the street’s puddles, at one stage taking a while to realise that what he’s staring at isn’t the moon at all but rather his own round face. He ends up collapsing down a store cellar and falling asleep.

The ‘choice’ refers not to his decision over the daughters’ marriages, but the precise lack thereof as he first runs into trouble with the law and, later, growing sick through his dependence on alcohol, is forced to go into a partnership with Mossop and Maggie, who resume their old duties but on far better terms. There’s a lovely moment when Mossop comes into the shop at the end and addresses everyone on equal terms, having come a long way from the lowly shoemaker confined to the cellar.

Lean was first recognised as a technically gifted director, only gaining an ability to film performers convincingly over time. By the time he made Hobson’s Choice, both sides of his talent were fully developed, with some fine realisation of the rise of Mossop from his modest roots to well-heeled proprietor. This is matched by the teasing out of his personality as he learns to love Maggie. When she first proposes marriage, he’s unconvinced, doesn’t love her and goes along with it more out of ‘knowing his place’ rather than following his heart. The scene on their wedding night, when she’s getting ready for bed and he knows he’ll have to join her and procrastinates, stoking the fire to waste time, is a delight, as much of the sight of them the following morning, when love has clearly blossomed.

Hobson’s Choice: ****

Ice Cold in Alex (1958)

When it’s on: Tuesday, 17 July (12.50 pm)
Channel: Film4
IMDb Link

I suppose that like many 35-45 year olds, my first introduction to Ice Cold in Alex was via the aggressive marketing campaigns of branded lagers. Holsten Pils spliced Griff Rhys Jones into footage from The Great Escape. There was retaliation from Carling Black Label with a skit on the bombing scene off The Dambusters, playing on West Germany’s ability to win penalty shoot-outs by having a dam defender saving and parrying each bomb sent in his direction. Carlsberg responded with the simplest concept of them all, lifting the climactic scene of Ice Cold in Alex without edits and simply showing the bit where John Mills downs a glass of beer in a clearly branded glass. Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews look on admiringly as he finishes his drink and says ‘Worth waiting for.’

It’s a lovely advert and almost a happy accident for Carlsberg, whose name appeared on the glass because the film makers didn’t want to associate Mills’s beer with anything German, opting instead for the safe Danish brand. The commercial’s all the better because Mills looks so in need of his drink. It’s only in watching the film that it emerges this is entirely the case. The entire point of the picture, the moment is’s been building towards, even the title of the piece, refers to the perfect frosty one Mills anticipates when he reaches his destination.

Ice Cold in Alex was once dubbed ‘the ultimate British war film’ by Channel 4, and it’s therefore a surprise to find it challenging many stereotypes of the form. For one thing, Syms plays a strong, independent woman as opposed to the trapped, helpless female so typical of the genre. The love interest that develops between her nurse and Mills’s Captain Anson is a bit forced and obviously shoehorned in. Neither participant seems especially passionate about their budding romance and the whole plot development comes across as an afterthought, but that isn’t the defining aspect of her character. She mucks in with the lads and rarely lets the situation they’re all in overpower her, and it’s to both Syms’s and the film’s credit that the characterisation works. By all accounts, some of her scenes were reshot after she revealed too much cleavage in her clinches with Mills and indeed hers is a strangely buttoned down demeanour in the desert conditions of the film, but ultimately her lack of obvious sexiness adds credibility to her role.

Then there’s the depiction of the Nazis. Ice Cold in Alex takes place in the North African theatre of the early 1940s, as the battle lines shifted constantly along the Sahara desert. Mills and his fellows are driving a knackered old ambulance to Alexandria, making various detours as they attempt to avoid the Germans they fear could be waiting around any bend. As it turns out, they are – twice. And yet in both instances, the enemy lets them move on, they believe because they’re in a medical vehicle and pose no threat. The second nurse travelling with them is shot by the Nazis, but this is a result of the frayed Anson’s attempts to outrun them rather than through malice, and indeed the Germans are never made out to be the heartless monsters you might expect to find. As the story unravels, it becomes apparent that one of the travelling companions is also a Nazi, yet this character is every bit as helpful and genuinely warm-hearted as the others, and the film ends on the kind of sympathetic note that could only be struck in something made years after the war ended.

Mills does as much as any other element to subvert his own image as the clean cut British hero. Anson looks constantly ragged and strung out and is clearly teetering into outright alcoholism as a consequence of the stresses war has played on his nerves. He doesn’t always make the right choices, inadvertently killing one of the team thanks to his own reckless actions, and he shows signs of the tension overcoming him more than once. It helps that he looks tiny compared to the big men played by Andrews and Quayle, to whom he nevertheless dishes out his orders, and it’s the former’s dogged devotion to him that appears to keep Anson in charge.

The most famous moment in the film, apart perhaps from the lager drinking climax, is the team’s effort to guide their ambulance up a dune and beyond the depression they’ve traversed. The task has a futile, Sisyphusian edge to it, but it’s just one of several great bits. I especially like the passage when they cross a minefield, Quayle and Mills leading the ambulance on foot and using it as a sparring of egos between two strong men. The music stops and the long silences of the desert take over, punctuated only by the vehicle moving cautiously behind in first gear. The camera seems to track each faltering footstep, and then Quayle steps on something metal…

J Lee Thompson brought real suspense and a dry wit to the proceedings, more or less making up the minefield scenes as he went along to wring every last drop of tension from it. He brought many elements of Ice Cold in Alex to North West Frontier, made a year later and copying much of the ‘perilous road trip’ dimension despite a very different setting. Indeed, it even features a traitor within the ranks, though Herbert Lom’s nasty is a far less empathetic villain than the one depicted in this entry. It’s good fun, reminiscent of many a spare two-hour slot on the Saturday afternoons BBC2 used to fill with classic films, with excellent support from the stolid Andrews, and Quayle reining in many of his actorly excesses within a bravado-led role that could really have seen him let rip.

Ice Cold in Alex: ****

The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)

When it’s on: Wednesday, 4 July (1.10 pm)
Channel: Channel 4
IMDb Link

For me, debates over the best screen adaptation of John Buchan’s The Thirty Nine Steps begin and end with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 classic. Slavish fans of the text may be disappointed with the Master of Suspense’s fast and loose treatment of the source material, but the end product is cracking, an exercise in mounting tension and memorable scenes that retains its power nearly eighty years later. It’s these qualities that are more likely to be missing in Don Sharp’s 1978 version, which promises a more faithful version of the novel but loses the thrills. Nowhere to be found is anything as quietly riveting as the scene with the missing finger, as stylish as the scream dissolving into a train leaving the station, or as much fun as the sparks flying between Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.

Not that this edition of The Thirty Nine Steps is a bad film. It simply wasn’t put together by a genius and thereby lacks the flair and panache he brought to the table. Instead, what we get is a perfectly serviceable thriller, the sort of post-lunch, Bank Holiday ninety minutes that pass amiably enough. The cast is a who’s who of British stalwarts, headed by Robert Powell as a slightly distant Richard Hannay. There’s nothing wrong with him as such, neither is there anything especially engaging. Perhaps it’s the sensation that he’s going through the motions without ever really connecting with his work, that despite spending much of the film on the run he never appears to be in a great deal of peril. The rather blank-faced Karen Dotrice as the love interest doesn’t help. There’s a slightly unsettling moment when her fiancé is killed and she doesn’t bat an eyelid, possibly a cutting room oversight but it reduces our level of investment when supporting characters are disposed of so ruthlessly just to make certain pieces fit together.

Fortunately, there are some great turns from John Mills as an ageing spy, and David Warner playing the double agent aligned against him. Warner makes a brilliant baddie. Overused in this role as the years dragged on and lazy casting found him playing the same villainous blackguard (the same recurring limbo Charles Dance would later find himself trapped in), it’s easy to see why he became the go-to man for embodying screen nastiness. Looming and sombre looking, he barely moves in the film, an interesting contrast to the animated Hannay, and leaves all the chasing to his rifle toting henchmen.

Sharp doesn’t let The Thirty Nine Steps slow down, which is good as there isn’t a lot going on beneath the surface. Why Hannay simply doesn’t hand himself into the police after Mills’s character is knifed beats me. Instead, he heads up to Scotland, following both the book and key moments of the 1935 film in traversing endless miles of rugged countryside and frequently being pursued along the way. The Scottish highlands have a bleak, foreboding feel about them, which chimes nicely with Hannay’s plight. There are also some fine action scenes to take in, including the famous Big Ben finale, which was borrowed from an old Will Hay film, My Learned Friend, and does a great job of actually suggesting Hannay’s bitten off more than he can chew for once.

By this point, viewers should have spotted the obvious – comparisons with Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps may be a blind alley, but doing the same with North by Northwest most certainly is not. The murder scene in the train station – check. The aeroplane chase – it’s there. The set piece climax involving a famous landmark – got it. Hardly a bad film to borrow from, but it only really highlights the lesser talents behind this one.

The Thirty Nine Steps: **

This Happy Breed (1944)

When it’s on: Tuesday, 29 May (4.45 pm)
Channel: Film4
IMDb Link

This Happy Breed was the second collaboration between Noel Coward and David Lean. Their first, In Which we Serve, featured Coward as very much the senior partner, co-directing with Lean, the latter taking on the more technical side of the job and the editing process. Two years down the line and Lean was fully in control, adapting Coward’s play with the latter even being gazumphed in the role of Frank Gibbons, the lead part he’d taken on the stage, by Robert Newton.

In many ways, This Happy Breed doesn’t square well with our perceptions of the patrician Coward. Yet the flamboyant wit came from lowly roots, brought up in Teddington, and his play is a kind of paean to the indomitable spirit of the working classes. This is channelled in the film, Lean’s first in colour. It’s about the Gibbons, a family settling into their new Clapham home in 1919, through to their departure in 1939. The head is Frank, returning from World War I to settle back into a normal working life. He likes a tipple, especially with his neighbour and war comrade, Bob Mitchell (Stanley Holloway), but he also has a nice line in earthy wisdom, for instance when dismissing his son’s leaning towards Socialism as a symptom of attempts to seek a better world that will always be undermined by basic human nature. John Mills takes a supporting role as Bob’s son, in love with Frank’s daughter, Queenie (Kay Walsh), and forging a career with the Royal Navy.

Frank’s wife, Ethel, is played by Celia Johnson. A renowned stage actress who was soon to produce her star-making turn in Brief Encounter, Johnson is fantastic as the living personification of the Keep Calm and Carry On ethos. Not exactly a beauty and made up to look appropriately haggard as the lived-in mum of This Happy Breed, Johnson’s performance is just note-perfect. The understated pain she portrayed in Brief Encounter is just as evident here, her saucer-like eyes conveying all the grief and challenge faced by a working class matriarch who’s helpless in the face of her family’s movements.

As Britain recovers slowly from the Great War and slides towards its sequel, the Gibbons keep calm and carry on. They survive the death of one family member, the elopement of a daughter, the tensions inherent in a group of people shoehorned into a house with little diversion but each other’s company. The period detail is wonderful, from the tea service to the new wireless that takes pride of place on the mantelpiece.

There’s an impression of Lean that because he often enough got to work with the best of cast and crew, great films were made almost in spite of him, as if all he had to do was point the camera in the right direction and the various talents around him filled in the great art. The stage origins of the material are clear enough in the way most of This Happy Breed takes place in the Gibbons’ home, but there’s plenty of time for nice little directorial touches that prove Lean’s abilities. A parade of battalions returning from World War I is a collage of different coloured uniforms and triumphal marching music, only for the camera to distance itself from the images and sounds, focusing instead on a cenotaph. Later, the conveying to the Gibbons of their son’s death happens off screen, the camera remaining discretely in the living room and instead picking up the incongruous sounds of the big band music on the radio and kids playing outside, as though it would be unconscionable to intrude on their grief.

It’s a lovely film, worth sticking with through a slow start as the narrative steadily immerses us in the main characters. This Happy Breed also lives on in the theatres, as a run in 2011 starring Dean Lennox Kelly demonstrates. Both the play and film offer us glimpses into a British society that barely exists any longer, such is the effect of two world wars, political shifts and the passing of time.

This Happy Breed: ****