Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
United Kingdom, 1944. Two Cities Films, Noel Coward-Cineguild. Screenplay by David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, based on the play by Noel Coward. Cinematography by Ronald Neame. Produced by Noël Coward. Music by Muir Mathieson, Clifton Parker. Production Design by C.P. Norman. Costume Design by Hilda Collins. Film Editing by Jack Harris. National Board of Review Awards 1947.
David Lean’s collaborations with Noel Coward produced some wonderful films, and while In Which We Serve is the best, this one is the warmest. A top-rate cast embodies the members of a family who move into a London row house just after the first World War has ended and father Robert Newton has returned from service. He opens a successful travel agency while mother Celia Johnson does her best to raise three children who become, as children do, a terrific challenge as they grow older: eldest daughter Eileen Erskine is the least worrisome, her squabbles with her suitor are how we know she’s going to be happily married to him, while son John Blythe goes through his rebellious phase of fighting the establishment and thinking his parents are old-fashioned sell-outs. The other daughter, played by the always luminous Kay Walsh, is the biggest challenge, rejecting the love of the boy next door (John Mills) who has ambitions in the navy, longing instead to get out and see the world and leave behind what she considers a crummy existence in a grimy neighbourhood. The years pass and bring us closer to the second World War, the crises continuing as we watch Lean manage to make an intimate, limited setting feel intimate and cozy, throbbing with the exact right level of sentimental lushness. The great director’s first film in colour, it strikes the exact right note as war propaganda, giving audiences a reminder of the uncomplicated, simple and noble existence that they are fighting to preserve.