This Happy Breed (film)
|This Happy Breed|
DVD release cover
|Directed by||David Lean|
|Produced by||Noël Coward|
|Written by||David Lean
Based on the play by Noël Coward
|Narrated by||Laurence Olivier|
|Music by||Muir Mathieson
|Edited by||Jack Harris|
|Distributed by||Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited (UK)|
|Release date(s)||1 June 1944|
|Running time||115 minutes|
This Happy Breed is a 1944 British Technicolor drama film directed by David Lean. The screenplay by Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan and Ronald Neame is based on the 1939 play of the same title by Noël Coward. The title, a reference to the English people, is a phrase from John of Gaunt's monologue in Act II, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's Richard II.
Opening shortly after World War I, the film focuses on landmark events in the lives of the middle class Gibbons family after they settle in a new home in Clapham in South London. The household includes Frank, his wife Ethel, their three children – Reg, Vi and Queenie – his widowed sister Sylvia and Ethel's mother. Living next door is Bob Mitchell, who served with Frank in the army.
Frank finds employment in a travel agency. As the children grow up and the country adapts to peacetime, the family attend a number of events, such as the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924.
Reg becomes friendly with Sam, a staunch Socialist, who is attracted to Vi. Queenie is pursued by Bob's sailor son Billy, but she longs to escape the suburbs and lead a more glamorous life elsewhere.
During the General Strike of 1926, Reg is injured in a brawl in Whitechapel Road. Vi blames Sam, who had brought her brother to the area, but eventually her anger dissipates and she agrees to marry him.
In 1928, Charleston dance mania arrives in England, and an enthralled Queenie exhibits her fancy steps at the local dance hall. As all of London is swept up in the Jazz Age, news of new German chancellor Adolf Hitler begins to appear in the newspapers. Reg marries Phyllis and Billy proposes to Queenie yet again, but she confesses she is in love with a married man and soon after runs off with him, to the great distress of her mother, who says she cannot forgive her and never wants to see her again.
As time passes, Aunt Sylvia discovers spiritualism, Reg and Phyllis are killed in a car crash, and Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists, tries to stir up anti-Semitic sentiment in the city. Stanley Baldwin becomes Prime Minister, King George V dies, and Ethel's mother passes away. Billy, home on leave from the Royal Navy, and now a sub-lieutenant, announces he saw Queenie in France. Abandoned by her lover, she opened a tearoom to try to make ends meet, and she deeply regrets having left home. Billy reveals they were married two weeks previously in Plymouth Register Office and he has brought her back to London; she and Ethel are reunited and her mother forgives her for her indiscretion.
With World War II on the horizon, Queenie has a baby, which she leaves in the care of her parents when she joins her husband in Singapore. Frank and Ethel, faced with an empty nest, decide to move to a flat. A 'To Be Let' sign is seen outside the house.
Coward had played Frank Gibbons on stage, and he wanted to reprise the role on screen. Lean felt the playwright's public persona of witty sophistication was so far removed from his humble lower class origins that audiences would be unable to accept him as Gibbons, and he initially offered the role to Robert Donat instead.
Lean insisted on filming This Happy Breed on three-strip Technicolor stock, although the film was difficult to acquire in Britain during the war. At the time, a Technicolor representative was assigned to the set of every film that utilised the process to ensure everything looked right on film. Lean was contractually required to follow strictly the guidelines proposed by the consultant, whose expertise he questioned and who drove him to distraction because of her concentration on the minutest details. The released film barely resembles a standard Technicolor film, which was Lean's intention. It proved to be the most successful British release of 1944 and the first of many critically acclaimed films directed by him.
Between March 2006 and January 2008, the restoration of This Happy Breed, combining digital and photochemical techniques, was carried out at the British Film Institute's National Archive's Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted and at Cineric, a post-production facility which combines optical printing and photochemical restoration with innovative digital techniques, in New York City. The project included correcting the colour and a full digital restoration of the picture and soundtrack. The most time-consuming part of the sound restoration process involved removing background noise that caused dialogue to become muffled when conventional methods of noise reduction were used to remove it. Technicians had to filter the noise between individual words to eliminate static. The restored film was screened as part of a major David Lean retrospective at BFI Southbank in mid-2008.
- Robert Newton as Frank Gibbons
- Celia Johnson as Ethel Gibbons
- Alison Leggatt as Aunt Sylvia
- Stanley Holloway as Bob Mitchell
- John Mills as Billy Mitchell
- Kay Walsh as Queenie Gibbons
- Amy Veness as Mrs. Flint
- Eileen Erskine as Vi Gibbons
- John Blythe as Reg Gibbons
- Guy Verney as Sam Leadbitter
- Betty Fleetwood as Phyllis Blake
- Merle Tottenham as Edie
Time Out London said, "Though Lean and Coward are less happy here than in the brittle, refined atmosphere of Brief Encounter, their adventurous excursion into suburban Clapham remains endlessly fascinating."
Channel 4 rated it 3½ out of five stars and added, "A toff propagandist's England, of course. But once you've got over its peculiar patrician tones and bitty structure, there's much to enjoy – not least the changing frocks and haircuts and wallpapers."
Radio Times gave it five out of five stars and said "This second of David Lean's four collaborations with Noël Coward provides a fascinating picture of the way we were. ... such is the ebb and flow of events (both domestic and historical) that the two hours it takes to cover the 20 inter-war years seem to fly by. Celia Johnson is superb ....the best scenes belong to neighbours Robert Newton and Stanley Holloway"
Awards and nominations
- This Happy Breed at the Internet Movie Database
- Smith Nehme, Farran. "Criterion Collection Essay". Retrieved 27 April 2012.