The Long Memory

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The Long Memory
The Long Memory 1953 UK poster.jpg
Original British 1953 quad film poster
Directed by Robert Hamer
Produced by Hugh Stewart
Screenplay by Robert Hamer
Frank Harvey
Based on The Long Memory (novel) 
by Howard Clewes
Starring John Mills
John McCallum
Elizabeth Sellars
Geoffrey Keen
Music by William Alwyn
Cinematography Harry Waxman
Edited by Gordon Hales
Rank Organisation
Europa Films
British Film-Makers
Distributed by GFD (UK)
Release dates
  • 23 January 1953 (1953-01-23) (UK [1])
Running time
96 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Long Memory is a black and white 1953 film directed by Robert Hamer and based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Howard Clewes. A crime thriller filmed on the North Kent Marshes on the Thames Estuary and the dingy backstreets of Gravesend (now long since demolished), its bleak setting and grim atmosphere have led to its acclaim as a British example of film noir.[2]


The protagonist, Davidson (John Mills), visits the boat of Captain Driver to ask permission to marry his daughter Fay. Aboard, he finds himself involved in a fight over the criminal activities of Boyd, a people trafficker with whom the Drivers are associated. The boat catches fire, and subsequent investigation finds aboard a charred corpse, Boyd having gone missing. The corpse is actually a client Boyd killed, but to cover up their involvement, the Drivers and another associate, Tim Pewsey, perjure themselves by claiming there was no other man present. This leads to the identification of the corpse as Boyd and to Davidson's conviction for his murder. He spends 12 years in prison.

Upon his release, he sets out to get even with the three witnesses. Living rough in a beached barge on the Kent Marshes, he returns to the scene of the crime and begins gathering clues as to the whereabouts of the witnesses. He finds that Captain Driver has drunk himself to death, Pewsey is scared and Fay is now married to a policeman, Inspector Lowther (John McCallum).

Three people attempt - initially unsuccessfully - to befriend Davidson; Jackson, a kindly old hermit from whom he rents the barge; Ilse, a traumatised wartime refugee who falls in love with him after he rescues her from being raped by a sailor and allows her to stay overnight on his barge; and Craig, a journalist who is interested in his case, and also suspects him to be innocent.

Shadowed by Lowther, whose own marriage is coming under increasing tension with the possibility of his wife's perjury, Davidson stalks Pewsey to frighten him into confessing to the police, and also discovers that the alleged murder victim, Boyd, is alive and well. He visits Boyd's office and confronts him, but finds himself pursued by an armed Boyd and his criminal chauffeur. Boyd shoots at Davidson, wounding him in the arm, but the chauffeur advises Boyd against pursuing him further. Davidson flees to the Kent Marshes, where Boyd waits for him and chases him and, as he is about to kill him, is shot dead by Jackson. The film concludes with Ilse and Davidson refusing further help, leaving to deal with their pasts together.

Production and premiere[edit]

The film was made at Pinewood Studios and on location in Kent around Gravesend and at Shad Thames in London. It was the last film of Henry Edwards, a major British star of the 1920s and 1930s, who had a small role as a judge early in the film.

The film had its gala premiere at the Leicester Square Theatre on 22 January 1953, with Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester as guests of honour,[3] and went on general release the following day.[1] The Times' film reviewer found the film a bit dull and self-important, but gave director Hamer credit for, "effective use of the film's natural background, the mud and desolation of the flats of the Thames Estuary."[4]



  1. ^ a b The Times, 23 January 1953, page 2: Classified Advertising, Picture Theatres, Leicester Square Theatre - found in The Times Digital Archive 2013-11-21
  2. ^ European Film Noir, Andrew Spicer, Manchester University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-7190-6790-1
  3. ^ The Times, 23 January 1953, page 8: Court Cicular - found in The Times Digital Archive 2013-11-21
  4. ^ The Times, 23 January 1953, page 2: Film review, "The Long Memory" - found in The Times Digital Archive 2013-11-21

External links[edit]