This Happy Breed (David Lean / United Kingdom, 1944):

England between wars, Noël Coward libretto, David Lean visualization. "Got quite dark, hasn't it?" Aerial London views establish the muted Technicolor varnish, from 1919 to 1939 is an intermittence in a sprawling crane shot at the beginning and end. Moving day for the Gibbons family, paterfamilias (Robert Newton) remembers the trenches but first things first, mother (Celia Johnson) puts a tea kettle on the stove. Parades, a trip to the fair, quite the long engagement between the pleasure-seeking daughter (Kay Walsh) and the sailor next door (John Mills). The Englishman's castle and the wallpaper that comes with it, the tenuous calm of a working-class abode in the eye of the storm. Sonny (John Blythe) one moment is getting into a fracas over the world's injustices and the next he's listening to Dad's wedding-day talk, his radical pal's screed against "complacency, arrogance and a full stomach" is similarly domesticated via marriage to his sister (Eileen Erskine). Strikes and elections and seasonal postcards, Jazz Age dances and the unintelligible novelty of talkies, even kings are swallowed by the passage of time. The filming takes note of Meet Me in St. Louis, the bickering of hypochondriac aunt (Alison Leggatt) and gruff mum-in-law (Amy Veness) is part of the music. "A nation of gardeners," British from top to bottom and yet there's the link to Ozu, the drunken songs "the boys of the old brigade" warble in the basement. An increasingly confident camera expanding the proscenium rather than merely recording it (a gentle pan transforms the vacant drawing room in the wake of tragic news, a reverse track leaves it), a continuous interplay of coziness and suffocation—the young runaway's tearful return dissolves to a gas-mask warning poster. "I wonder what happens to rooms when people give them up...?" (Akerman's Hotel Monterey) A most tasteful haunted house, key for memory-films by Boorman and Terence Davies. Cinematography by Ronald Neame. With Stanley Holloway, Guy Verney, Betty Fleetwood, and Merle Tottenham.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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