small back room

The Small Back Room (UK) 1949

The Nazis are dropping insidious anti-personnel devices on England, a new small cannon is being developed and faces the usual bureaucracy, a scientist with an artificial foot struggles with alcohol and painkillers.

This is the stuff of war story melodramas and what separates this film from many similar films is the production by The Archers – Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who wrote (based on a novel by Nigel Balchin), produced and directed. The people are real and the production sometimes lifts from Weimar-era films giving it an edge these kinds of films usually lack. Good stuff.

With David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Leslie Banks, Michael Gough, and Cyril Cusack, among others. Cinematography by Christopher Challis and music by Brian Easdale.

I know where I'm going

I Know Where I’m Going (UK) 1945

In a letter to James Sandoe, dated December 7, 1950 and published in The Raymond Chandler Papers, Raymond Chandler wrote:

“You should by all means catch . . .  an English picture called ‘I Know Where I’m Going,’ shot largely on the west coast of Scotland – the coast that faces the Hebrides. I’ve never seen a picture which smelled of the wind and rain in quite this way, nor one which so beautifully exploited the kind of scenery people actually live with, rather than the kind which is commercialized as a show place.”

For a romantic story of sorts, this is an incredibly moody and atmospheric film where the locals and their lore aren’t treated as background but as integral parts of the story. The characters are just that instead of cartoons played for amusement and Catriona played by Pamela Brown (see picture) is a perfect example.

Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Also starring Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Finlay Currie, and George Carney, among others. Cinematography by Erwin Hillier and music by Allan Gray.

It always rains on Sunday

It Always Rains On Sunday (UK) 1947

London’s East End, just after the war: An escaped criminal, stolen roller skates, a struggling family, love gained and lost, and the rain. Directed by Robert Hamer and shot by Douglas Slocombe, this flick is considered by some to be a precursor to the “kitchen sink” films that would begin appearing a decade later in the UK. That’s more deceptive than descriptive, as this film really doesn’t have the agenda that would drive the “kitchen sink” films and that’s part of its real charm. More good stuff from Ealing Studios.

With Googie Withers, Edward Chapman, Susan Shaw, Patricia Plunkett, David Lines, and numerous others.

a taste of honey

A Taste of Honey (UK) 1961

Why the children are singing, “The big ship sails on the ally-ally-oh, the ally-ally-oh, the ally-ally-oh” on what seems to be Guy Fawkes Night at the end of this film has always mystified and intrigued me. A fitting end to a film that doesn’t pretend a resolution for a situation that will never end in any conventional sense and therein is the power of the story. It’s a sensibility shared by many of the so-called Kitchen Sink films coming out of the UK in the late 1950s and early 1960s and many still remain undated and alive.

The story is of a pregnant teen and her utterly self-involved and destructive mother and her afrodisiace naturale only friend, a gay teen looking to belong to something. Unlike the moralistic thunder Hollywood would impose on such a story – if in fact they would do such a story – it’s played as a story of people dealing with what they have. This film – among others – eroded the power of Hays Code with a story that never resorts to being a message.

Directed by Tony Richardson and written by Richardson and Shelagh Delaney (from her play), it marked the film debut of Rita Tushingham. The film also stars Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens, and Murray Melvin, among others. After watching a string of bad films I saw this was playing and decided to watch the first couple of minutes. Then I couldn’t stop watching. That’s the kind of film I need to see.

A Kind of Loving

A Kind of Loving (UK) 1962

The directorial debut of John Schlesinger and the acting debut of Alan Bates in a film about young afrodisiac love and pregnancy in the lower-middle class. Shot by Denys Coop (“The Third Man,” “This Sporting Life”), the film captures the desolation and despair so often part of the "kitchen sink" films. Not the kind of story that fits a plot outline, it's a film about small revelations and lesser opportunities. With June Ritchie and Thora Hird.


© 2012 William Ahearn

This is a somewhat random selection of British films, and I’ve tried to avoid the better-known films. These days, that isn’t easy. So if you’re a Brit flick maven, these films will be familiar. If not, treat yourself to some rewarding viewing on a rainy day. It isn't intended as a complete list and other films are sure to follow.

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