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United Kingdom 1944
Directed by
David Lean
114 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

This Happy Breed

This Happy Breed is a celebration of Englishness as embodied in the 'tween wars lives of a Clapham lower-middle class family, the Gibbons.

With fine direction by David Lean whose script he adapted from Noel Coward's 1939 play of the same name, it's a carefully detailed production although surprisingly given its historical ambitions it leap-frogs almost entirely over the Great Depression. The self-conscious patriotism is delivered without visible irony with the hard-working women loyally keeping the home fires burning whilst the cheerily dutiful men trot off to work, occasionally indulging in alcohol-nurtured camaraderie, their collective existences punctuated by interminable cups of tea.

There's a creepily fascinating aspect to it all insofar as chronic dullness should engender such narcissism (Johnny Speight would have much fun with this class-ridden Weltanschauung in the mid-1960s with the less benign character of Alf Garnett in the teleseries, Til Death Us Do Part) but this smug self-awareness is very much part of Coward's appeal (he came from such a background himself and no doubt had a kind of hate-love relationship to it).

Robert Newton and Celia Johnson play the parents, Frank and Ethel Gibbons, whilst Stanley Holloway and John Mills (who rather ludicrously starts off playing a 21 year old, indeed, most of the young’uns appear to be about decade older than they should be) lend their dutifully cheery support. Its put-the-kettle-on-mother mundanity is enough to drive one mad, or in the case of one of the Gibbons daughters, Queenie (Kay Walsh), into the arms of a married man and from thence to a shameful flight to France, that well-known land of unbridled carnality ("disgusting" as Grandma puts it when a letter arrives with a French stamp on it). 

With WWII not yet over, the film was clearly propagandistic in intent and as such does justice to its title. Today it will be a treat for nostalgia buffs and Anglophiles.




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