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This Happy Breed

This Happy Breed“Slip back to England between the two
  World Wars for a slice of family life with
  the DVD This Happy Breed — David
s first official credit as Director
  and the most successful film of 1944

ADAPTED FROM NOEL COWARD'S hit stage play, the film This Happy Breed was one of several successful collaborations between Coward and David Lean and makes a welcome appearance on DVD.

Reflecting the spirit of Britain as a nation in a time of adversity, This Happy Breed is interesting on a number of counts. Firstly, it gives a window onto a bygone age, telling the story of a lower middle class London family from 1919, when men are returning home from the horrors of World War One, in leaps through twenty years to 1939, just before the Second World War.

The film is notable not only for the special talents of Producer Noel Coward, Director David Lean and the leading actors; but also because it looks at the behaviour and interaction of the featured characters according to the mores of the time. It has been cited as Coward's anthem to British resilience and a celebration of the stoicism, humour and strength of ordinary British people.

Frank Gibbons (Robert Newton: Odd Man Out) is demobbed and he and his wife Ethel (Celia Johnson: Brief Encounter) move into number 17, Sycamore Road, in South London, along with their children — 12-year-old Reg; 13-year-old Queenie and 4-year-old Vi. Completing the family is death-obsessed mother-in-law Mrs Flint (Amy Veness), 'delicate' Aunt Sylvia (Alison Leggatt), whose husband Bertie was killed during the war, and cat Percy.

Although the house is dark and neglected and neighbours watch curiously from behind twitching curtains, for Frank — who cannot forget the friends who died during hostilities — and Ethel it soon becomes a home where they preside over their family with great dignity, patience and compassion. Living in the austere, post-war era isn't easy, and with the changing times comes the trials and tribulations of raising a family whose wants and needs differ from the previous generation.

By coincidence Frank finds a friend from his war days, Bob Mitchell (Stanley Holloway: My Fair Lady) is living next door with his wife Nora and son Billy (played as a young adult by John Mills: The Way To The Stars), who joins the Navy. Frank and Bob renew their friendship in a way that doesn't always suit Ethel — who has help in the house in the shape of Edie (Merle Tottenham).

The years pass by, marked with historic occasions: the great British pride as the troops march past with crowds cheering and waving the Union Flag; Christmases; The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley on 23 April 1924; The great General Strike; 1928 fashions; the showing of the film Broadway Melody in 1929 with black-and-white footage; Newspaper headlines of Adolf Hitler's election success; and the death of the King.

Also of interest is a reference to Chamberlain's speech on Peace In Our Time and references to the (Lyons) corner house cafés. Frank toasts the Buffs and Bob the East Surreys with Johnnie Walker whisky and Sylvia drinks Wincarnis. Everything is very British stiff upper lip and Ethel's wry comment is very revealing: "There'll always be wars so long as men are such fools as to want to go to them."

The children grow up and bring home friends Phyllis Blake (Betty Fleetwood), who seems to like Reg (John Blythe), and Sam Leadbitter (Guy Verney) who takes a shine to Vi (Eileen Erskine). Sylvia embraces Spiritualism and finds fulfilment at last in her friendship with Mrs Wilmott at The Temple of Spiritual Radiation.

Queenie (Kay Walsh) now works in a beauty parlour but has her sights set on the better things in life. After turning down Billy's proposal of marriage, she runs off with a married man and — to Frank's further concern — Ethel says she wants nothing more to do with her daughter. But a harsher tragedy is to follow.

This Happy Breed is a fine film with sterling performances from the key players and is a captivating window on the world between the wars. The film was adapted for the screen by David Lean, Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan, who was also in charge of production; Photographed in Technicolor by Ronald Neame; the Music was played by The London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Muir Mathieson; Produced by Noel Coward and Directed by David Lean.

This digitally remastered two-disc set of This Happy Breed Special Edition (U), the most successful film of 1944, is now available (released on 26 January, 2009) at a RRP of £15.99. Total Running Time is 105 mins approx. It is a wonderful slice of nostalgia; a fine example of sumptuous filmmaking by the young David Lean and is described as "a heart-warming, cheering story for rainy days".

Special Features

Brand New Digital Restoration | Original Theatrical Trailer | Re-release Trailer | Restoration Comparison Featurette | Extensive South Bank Show Feature on David Lean | Commemorative Booklet by noted British film historian David Rolinson | Extensive Stills Gallery, including Behind The Scenes images | Original Pressbook and Material in PDF format.

"This Happy Breed is a fine film with sterling performances from the key players and is a captivating window on the world between the two World Wars" — Maggie Woods, MotorBar

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