Wednesday, 29 April 2009
I was listening to the lovely Anne-Marie Duff on the radio this morning, talking about how the new (Michael Caine starring) film she's in - Is Anybody There - reminded her of an Ealing comedy. That reminded me I'd already got this article written about Ealing films. It first appeared on my other website, Suite101, where I write extensively about foreign films, but I've tweaked it and uploaded it for your reading pleasure here on Movienoodle. Enjoy.
Classic British Comedy from Ealing
What is an Ealing Film? A Short History of the British Film Studio
The borough of Ealing in London is home to one of the oldest studios in the world. Ealing Studios have produced some of Britain's best loved comedy films.
The Golden Years
The golden years for Ealing are generally considered to be the 1940s and 50s, a peak time for British film-making, during which Ealing produced such gems as Passport to Pimlico, Kind Hearts and Coronets, School For Scoundrels, The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob.
The Whimsical Comedy of Ealing Films
Ealing films demonstrated a comedy of gentle whimsy, squeezing all they could out of British stereotypes. Inept policemen, London buses, cockney spivs, stiff upper lips and lots of drinking tea featured heavily. These films were so very British in their essence, often they were hard to understand elsewhere (for which read America). Firmly rooted in a time and place, in retrospect they can be viewed not only as classic comedies but as social and political histories of Britain.
Passport to Pimlico
Passport to Pimlico was made in 1948 by director Henry Cornelius. Set just after the end of the second world war, Passport to Pimlico demonstrated a clear understanding of the social climate of the time. To put it in context, after a victorious war the conservative British prime minister Winston Churchill was defeated in the general election by a landslide majority for Labour. Why was he rejected by the British public? They were ready for change; a revolution for British society; they wanted to shrug off the class system and see equal opportunities for all. This need for change is palpable in Passport to Pimlico, which essentially concerns the story of the residents of Pimlico discovering a document that reveals they are, legally speaking, living in the land of Burgundy. They immediately decide to seal themselves off from the rest of England and set up their own 'country', complete with new rules and regulations. Problems, and comedy, ensue when Pimlico is over-run by crooks eager to evade British law, and ultimately the residents realize that good old Blighty is the place they want to be after all.
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1950) is a masterpiece of film-making and, unlike Passport to Pimlico, doesn't require quite as much awareness of British history in order to grasp what's going on. Directed by Robert Hamer, Kind Hearts and Coronets concerns the snobbish, wealthy D'Ascoyne family. When young Louis Mazzini D'Ascoyne (Dennis Price) discovers that he is ninth in line to inherit the family fortune, he devises a despicable plot to bump off the other eight family members. This is a wicked and wonderful comedy, which has great fun following the murderous Mazzini about his dastardly deeds, and revels in finding more and more outrageous ways of offing the hapless D'Ascoynes. One of the major reasons this film is such superb comedy value is that the entire D'Ascoyne family (bar Mazzini) is played by Alec Guinness, including Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne. This means Guinness gets to camp it up in the most glorious fashion. The performances of Guiness, Price and leading lady Joan Greenwood in Kind Hearts and Coronets are simply unsurpassable.
The Future for Ealing
Ealing inevitably passed into decline, but recently their fortunes have turned around. Re-developed as a state of the art studio, they have helped to create some very successful British TV productions, such as The Royle Family and special scenes for the new series of Doctor Who. Fairly recent film releases The Importance of Being Earnest, Alien Autopsy and Valiant all came from Ealing, as did the new St. Trinians film, starring a pre-Bond Gemma Arterton. It's gratifying to see this famous old studio celebrating its history and attracting high quality comedy productions back to its sound stages. Roll on Ealing!