PLAIN STORY OF REALITY
From IRIS CONLAY, Catholic Herald Film Critic South Riding is England's best film in years. There is a good straightforward statement for you all, film people and audience alike, and I hope you will all be pleased with it—as pleased as I was with South Riding (London Pavilion.) For years I have sighed and moaned and held my head and rocked myself in despair over British films, mainly because their nature was everything except British. All the winds that blow from Hollywood found lovely wide open spaces in Wardour Street to play around in, and nothing characteristic or unsullied by alien influences ever seemed to emerge from our studios. Just occasionally, I raised my voice in plaintive strain and enquired if instead of smart set comedies of Mayfair we couldn't have country films, industrial area films, films about the kind of ordinary middle-class dull people that most of 115 are.
England As She is Reply came in two films, Man of Aran and The Edge of the World, both superb plain stories of realities of life and the fight for existence. But in spite of their sincerity and their worth-whileness, they hardly qualified for the position of English life sagas, because in their own way, their obscure island talcs were as unrepresentative of ordinary English life as the Mayfair fantasies.
But South Riding is really England as everyone knows it. The England of every country district with its systems of local government, its stuffy seeming committees that really are injected full with humanity. Not idealised England either, but England with her faulty citizens, England unsentimentalised and unglamorous—and perhaps dull.
Not dull to me. I find other things dull on the films. I find parades of luxury, dull, smart sayings dull, a lot of action dull, many murders dull, most " terrific effects " dull.
This is Exciting But when I watch real folk, as are the inhabitants of South Riding, working ow a pattern of day to day existence which interweaves among them, their story sometimes becoming dramatic in the intimate personal way that drama creeps into one's life through people and relationships, through work and enthusiasm for " a cause," through,' unseen, inside things that do not need thunderstorms, or murders or fine clothes or sex appeal to make them exciting, then I really am thrilled, moved beyond myself.
And the people of South Riding who have such an effect upon me are Robert Carne, the landowner still a little feudal in outlook, but humanitarian-feudal. He looks after his people, sits in council, hunts, has his narrowmindedness and his sorrows
—which are bigger than his faults. His wife, around whom life centres for him, has for fourteen years inhabited an asylum, he lives now alone with his headstrong young 12-year daughter, Midge.
Ralph Richardson manages with control and mastery to carry off the part of Carne with honours, not so does he control daughter Midge (Glynis Johns), whose wilfulness may be headless, but not heartless.
The young schoolmistress, Sarah Burton (even the names of Winifred Holiby's manuscript are plain and in keeping with its characters) is a woman of homely attraction, lots of common sense and a way with her that captivates her whole school, a whole council and at least two hearts. Edna Best, looking blouse and tie demure, with well polished face only a little make-up allowed—did magnificently good work as Sarah.
Among the close runners-up for sympathy were Councillor Asia, the consumptive Socialist whose idealism balances the mealy-mounted grasp-aU minister, Councillor Huggins, with sins that eventually discover him. These parts get full-bodied interpretation by John Clements and Edmund Gwcnn.
The child actors, Glynis Johns (with a forehead you'll remember) and Joan Ellison (of whom you probably won't have heard) have more natural qualities, better voices, far more art than anything female age 12 that I ever saw come out of Hollywood. Maybe Hollywood has the little boys, but we have the little girls—unless, of course, you count dear old Shirley as a juvenile— I'm inclined to forget she isn't contemporary with Sophie Tucker.
It Goes in Jerks Like many filmed novels, South Riding's worst failing is its story. A novel is, on the whole too packed with incident to film in entirety and the problem always is to simplify without leaving out essentials. South Riding has not yet left quite enough
out, it is a bit episodic and unfluid. Nor do its joints always dovetail.
But these are quibbles. The flag-wagging coronation ending was its major error
and this has been cut. So because of its spirit, its conception and its execution, I say again that South Riding is Britain's best.
Like the wise thrush that sings its song twice over lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture, Alexander Korda and London Films, not content with one brilliant film this week, South Riding, gives us another, The Divorce of Lady X (Odeon.) Contradiction Nothing have these two in common except merit. In fact The Divorce of Lady X is all about the things I most condemn in films. It is set definitely in Mayfair--my most hated vicinity; it parades lovely clothes—and lovely pyjamas, a most hateful habit. it is artificial to whimsy even, most loathly pose of all; and it is in colour—up to now a mixed blessing.
Yet The Divorce of Lady X despite a ridiculous and deliberately aggravating naughty-naughty aroma surrounding it, despite all its emphasis on worldly sophistication completely got me because it is really as simple and as charming a little frolic as anything put over by Deanna Durbin. In fact the one thing I wished to see was a change over from Merle to Deanna because Merle has just that too finished touch from time to time that makes me doubt her schoolgirl complexion.
Laurence Olivier, the confused young man has such an absurd puzzle that he wears upon his face that surely Hollywood will want to enshrine it for ever, and he plays his unsolemn and unimportant role of comedy hero with all the vigour and wholeness of himself that he would devote to Romeo or Hamlet. But no one will come away from The Divorce of Lady X without feeling how the greatness of Olivier is crabbed within the unyielding smallness of the one-view, Everard Logan. Probably Ralph Richardson in his second appearance this week, gets the most fun out of the picture.
Colour in Harness
And then the colour. At last nearside beauty. At last undisturbing to the film, become integral to it and not just an extra trick. Sometimes still too treacly. Like those full colour illustration in Christmas
numbers of magazines, but usually in its proper place subservient to shape and design. In true humility, I thought, was the opening of The Divorce of Lady X—in a fog, such effacing generosity on colour's part. But we have come to appreciate her now, and she knows she need no longer " show off" to get attention.
British films should have a happy new year if all the productions equal these— anyway with 1937's nightmares-, in 1938 daylight dawns perhaps?
Works of Catholic Film Society 1 went along last week to one of the Catholic Film Society's shows at the Millicent Fawcett Hall where a mixed programme of shorts as varied as Shark Fishing, Our Lady's Tumbler and Children at School was being shown. The only specifically Catholic interest film was one made by the pupils of the London School of Dramatic Art about the legend of Our Lady's Tumbler, the poor man whom Our Lady loved because he did the only thing he knew how to do for her—to turn somersaults. This little film had a lot of charm, some lovely shots of what I think I recog nised as Byland Abbey, a real dramatic sense of the use of mime, and it suffered none of the usual flamboyant extravagances of this medium on the film. To a shrewdly Catholic audience the monks had a very unliturgical manner of making the sign of the cross, but this detail is tiny and not to be confused with the merit that existed in the conception of Our Lady's Tumbler.
Difficulties of Abstract It would seem from seeing the Mime Group of the Catholic Film Society execute an abstract ballet of De Profoundis that they themselves, until more technically knowledgeable, would benefit by easier tasks of miming such legends as those provided by the Little Flowers of St. Francis, or perhaps incidents from the life of St. Margaret of Cortona.
The L.S.D.A. chose rightly in being more concrete in the beginning, but if the ambitious C.F.S. still attempt the higher abstract mood could they not try more group work, perhaps to plainchant, rather than more floral music? What about the Dies frac. for example. Does it suggest itself to you, C.F.S.?