This book offers a startling re-evaluation of what has until now been seen as the most critically lacklustre period of the British film history. It includes fresh assessment of maverick directors; Pat Jackson, Robert Hamer and Joseph Losey, and even of a maverick critic Raymond Durgnat. The book features personal insights from those inidividually implicated in 1950s cinema; Corin Redgrave on Michael Redgrave, Isabel Quigly on film reviewing, and Bryony Dixon of the BFI on archiving and preservation. A classic image from 1950s British cinema would be Jack Hawkins in The Cruel Sea, the epitome of quiet English integrity. Raymond Durgnat's A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence, which deals extensively with British films of the 1950s, was written in the mid-1960s and was published in 1970. In a 1947 article called 'Angles of Approach' Lindsay Anderson delivered a fierce attack on contemporary British film culture, outlining a model for a devoted politics of creation, well in line with what we would later understand as auteurism and art cinema aesthetics . The war films of the 1950s together constitute the assented-to record of the emotions and moral judgments called upon to set in order those disorderly events. The book also talks about the Festival of Britain, White Corridors, and four Hamer's post-Ealing films: The Spider and the Fly, The Long Memory, Father Brown and The Scapegoat. A number of factors have contributed to the relative neglect of the 1950s as a decade in British cinema history.
. What home audiences might have been responding
to in these films was a proud but restrained Englishness that made a welcome
contrast to American brashness. (There is a separate book to be written
about the depiction of Americans in British films of that time: some way
from a special relationship.) In any case, is it not an oversimplifiation to
recall the service portrayal of, say, JackHawkins, Richard Todd and Kenneth
respect, until at last the treaty was dissolved by Mrs Thatcher’s
short, murderous and victorious class war.
The Cruel Sea (1952) stands as one eponymous
masterpiece at the head of all these films. What is striking about the
film is the deliberately prosaic nature of its epic poetry. As the two
senior officers on the little ship, so unobtrusively played by JackHawkins and Donald Sinden, close in
avuncular law officers of Jack Warner and JackHawkins one was
accustomed to in British film and surely an anticipation of Stratford
Johns’s great Inspector Barlow in BBC-TV’s classic
Z-Cars series. I could also remember The Gypsy and the
Gentleman (1957) for its unusual foreignness and the way this seemed
to connote passion, particularly in Merlina Mercouri’s devastation
of the aristocrat’s home (‘I
both Andy Rashleigh and Chris Larkin played the King) and Henry
and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History (2014, Channel 5) (in
which JackHawkins played the part).
Rachael Low, The History of British Film
(1906–1914) (London: Allen and Unwin, 1949 ), p. 209.