back to England between the two
World Wars for a slice of family life with
the DVD This Happy Breed David
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
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
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".
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