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This Happy Breed

Posted by martinteller on September 9, 2012

This Happy Breed – The story of the Gibbons clan from 1919 to 1939, starting with them moving into their new house and ending with them moving out.  At the head of the family is Frank (Robert Newton), a WWI vet who just got started in a travel agency, and his wife Ethel (Celia Johnson).  Their three children: Queenie (Kay Walsh), Vi (Eileen Erskine) and Reg (John Blythe).  Also Ethel’s mother Mrs. Flint (Amy Veness) and sister Sylvia (Alison Leggatt).  Frequent visitors to the household include Frank’s war buddy and neighbor Bob (Stanley Holloway), his son Billy (John Mills), friend of the family Phyllis (Betty Fleetwood) and Vi’s radical-minded suitor Sam (Guy Verney).

I don’t usually go to the trouble of doing a run-down of the entire cast like that, but it’s such a fine ensemble.  The tale of this middle-class family is told in snippets between world wars, but in these little snapshots we get such a feel for these characters.  Queenie’s yearning for the high life, the endless bickering between Sylvia and her mother, Frank’s fondness for a pub-hopping binge with Bob, and Ethel trying to keep everything together.  There are marriages and deaths and sudden departures, but with the usual British reserve there are no grandiose scenes of wild drama.  The camera movement when Ethel and Frank receive some shattering news is quietly respectful.  But it’s not too reserved.  I feel that Celia Johnson’s rigidness is overdone in Brief Encounter, here she’s a thunderstorm of emotion by comparison.  That is to say, she’s allowed to express a feeling every now and then, and she’s marvelous at it.  Newton is a charmer, and Kay Walsh almost steals the show as the most troublesome member of the family.

It’s a film that makes you feel like you’re at home.  There’s a coziness to it, even when times get dark.  It appears slight on the surface as it hops from one scenario to another, but it sticks with you.  Ronald Neame’s lovely Technicolor photography is a wonderful asset as well, the movie just looks warm and inviting.  As yet, the only disappointing film I’ve seen by David Lean is Summertime (and I’m well overdue for a fresh look at that one).  I enjoyed this very much.  Rating: Very Good (82)


2 Responses to “This Happy Breed”

  1. Thanks for bringing light onto this film. Also I appreciate your participation to the Classic Chops. Keep up the good work!

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