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May 11, 2008
British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1939-1951
Preface: This page is still under development. Many of the film links are the same as an earlier page British Cinema of the Second World War which will be restructured. The grid system providing links and reminders of the context of developments in British cinema and politics and society in general seems to be a more effective way to proceed. It has also been decided to develop the chronology linked to changes in national government rather than by decades as this will better reflect the changing contextual moods within the country.
This is one of a projected series of chronologies which provide visitors with the opportunity to gain a panotpical overview of developments within British Cinema from the outbreak of the Second World War until the present day. A key aspect of the project is to allow visotors to quickly cross reference the social attitudes expressed in films and references to responses from the audiences of the time as well as responses from critics. As other entries are developed links will be made to articles on the films. It is always important to get a quick overview of the course of events in gneral to contextualise the film industry in general and indvidual films within this. The years chosen cover the period of World War Two through the Atlee led Labour landslide visctory and subsequent Government. The start of the welfare state as well as the years of post-war austerity in a country nearly bankrupted by the war. 1950 saw the return of a Labour government but it only had a very narrow majority and was soon to fall to a Conservative party about 18 months later who in turn had 13 years uninterrupted in power.
Chronology of course is not history films do need a context in which to be able to be able to devlop a fuller understanding of them, as Robert Murphy has rightly commented:
With film aesthetics are never enough. Viewed in isolation 'In Which We Serve', 'Brief Encounter',even 'The Red Shoes' degenerate into kitsch. Films need a context, whether as the work of a particular director, the product of a studio or... as a part of a cycle of films emerging from a particular society over a particular period. (Murphy, 1992 p 233)
Major Historical Events
Major Film Industry Events
Main films Produced
March: Czechoslovakia invaded by Nazi Germany. Britain made an alliance with Poland.
September third. Britain declares war on Nazi Germany after Nazis invade Poland.
'Phoney War' in western Europe starts. At sea the Nazi pocketbattleship Graf Spee is defeated at the Battle of the River Plate.
September: The Great Evacuation
After the outbreak of war only 6 films in production were completed. another 11 were made in the rest of the year.
Immediate governmental response to the outbreak of war was to close the cinemas. When mass bombing raids didn't materialise they were reopened.
Korda: The Lion Has Wings
Let George Do It
Powell and Pressburger: The Spy in Black
April Hitler invades Norway
May 1940. 'Phoney War' ends as Nazis attack Belgium and Holland on 10th.
Churchill takes over as British Prime Minister after the Nazis successfully invade Norway.
28th May: Belgium surrenders.
26th May - June 4th British and French troops evacuated at Dunkirk.
22nd June: France surrenders.
30th June - September: Battle of Britain
September London Blitz begins.
51 British films released. 24 were comedy / comedy-thrillers.
The Stars Look Down (1939 Released January 1940) Carol Reed
Britain at Bay: (1940) Harry Watt (Often attrubuted to J. B. Priestley) [Documentary]
Night Train to Munich (1940) Carol Reed [Nazi Opression in Central Europe]
The Thief of Bagdad (1940) Ludwig Berger /Michael Powell /Tim Whelan [Alexander Korda producer]
The Proud Valley (1940) Penrose Tennyson [Ealing]
Pastor Hall (1940) Boulting Bros [Nazi oppression in Central Europe]
Let George Do It (1940) Marcel Varnel
Pimpernel Smith (1940) Leslie Howard
Britain at Bay (1940) Harry Watt [GPO Film Unit / sponsor MOI documentary]
Tomorrow is Theirs (1940) James Carr [Ministry of Information documentary]
They Also Serve (1940) Ruby Grierson [Gender & Work documentary]
Westward Ho! (1940) Thorold Dickinson [Documentary]
December: Japanese Fleet attack America at Pearl Harbour
47 British films released. 31 from the 6 studios mentioned under the 1940 entry)
Most popular film of the year was 49th Parallel.
The 49th Parallel (1941) Powell & Pressburger
That Hamilton Woman (1941) Alexander Korda
The Young Mr. Pitt (1941) Carol Reed
Ferry Pilot (1941) Pat Jackson [Documentary]
Cottage to Let (1941) Anthony Asquith
Ships With Wings (1941) Segei Nolbandov [Ealing]
Love on the Dole (1941) John Baxter
Eating Out With Tommy Trinder (1941) Desmond Dickinson
Jane Brown Changes her Job (1941) Harold Cooper [Gender & Work]
Ordinary People (1941) Jack Lee & J.B. Holmes
May RAF organise the first 1,000 bomber raid attacking Köln
June 1942. US win the Battle of Midway
October British Army wins Battle of El Alamein
Mass murder of Jews at Auschwitz begins
The Beveridge report published. This was the founding document of post-war social policy.
45 British films released. The majority were about the war. 13 / 16 comedies has war thmes. Several others were 'heritage' films. Independent companies like Two Cities make an impact.
Independent Producers established by Arthur J. Rank
Went the Day Well (1942) Alberto Cavalcanti [Ealing]
Listen to Britain (1942) Humphrey Jennings [Documentary]
One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942) Powell and Pressburger
In Which We Serve (1942) David Lean / Noël Coward [Two Cities]
The Foreman Went to France (1942) Charles Frend [Ealing]
The Goose Steps Out (1942) Will Hay, Basil Dearden [Ealing]
Thunder Rock (1942) Boulting Bros
The Next of Kin (1942) Thorold Dickinson [Ealing]
Night Shift (1942) Paul Rotha [Gender & Work, Documentary]
The Countrywomen (1942) John Page [Gender & the War Effort]
Men of Tomorrow (1942) Alfred Travers
February German Army at Stalingrad surrender. First major Nazi defeat.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Powell and Pressburger
The Silver Fleet (1943) Gordon Wellesley and Vernon Sewell [Produced by the Archers - Powell and Pressburger]
Fires Were Started (1943) Humphrey Jennings
The Silent Village (1943) Humphrey Jennings
The Bells Go Down (1943) Basil Dearden [Ealing]
Millions Like Us (1943) Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat [Gender & Work]
Nine Men (1943) Harry Watt [Ealing]
San Demetrio London (1943) Charles Frend [Ealing]
The Man in Grey (1943) Leslie Arliss [The first "official" Gainsborough costume melodrama]
Journey Together (1943) John Boulting [ RAF Film Unit in 1943 as a public information film]
D-Day invasion of Nazi occupied France
William Haley becomes director General of the BBC
|Rank takes over Two Cities production company
Clayton: Naples is a Battlefield (Documentary)
A Canterbury Tale (1944) Powell and Pressburger
This Happy Breed (1944) David Lean [Two Cities]
Fanny by Gaslight (1944) Anthony Asquith [Gainsborough melodrama was made to cash in on the success of The Man in Grey]
Love Story (1944) Leslie Arliss
Henry V (1944) Laurence Olivier [Two Cities]
The Way Ahead (1944) Carol Reed [Two Cities]
The Eighty Days (1944) Humphrey Jennings
Waterloo Road (1944) Sidney Gilliat
Two Thousand Women (1944) Frank Launder
The Halfway House (1944) Basil Dearden [Ealing]
Champagne Charlie (1944) Alberto Cavalcanti [Ealing / Musical]Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944) Arthur Crabtree
May 7th: Germany surrenders.
July 5th: General election, Labour majority of 150 seats.
August 24th: Japan surrenders after atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Immediate Post-War films
I Know where I'm Going (1945 December) Powell and Pressburger
Brief Encounter (1945) David Lean
The Wicked Lady (1945) Leslie Arliss [Gainsborough melodramas.]
They Were Sisters (1945) Arthur Crabtree [Gainsborough melodrama]
The Seventh Veil (1945) Compton Bennett
Homes for the People (1945) Kay Mander [Documentary]
Rationing in Britain (1945) Graham Cutts
Dead of Night (1945) Alberto Cavalcanti / Robert Hamer / Charles Crighton / Basil Dearden [Ealing]
National Insurance Act
New Towns Act 1946
Bank of England Nationalised
July 21st Bread Rationing introduced
Squatters settle in disused military bases
|39 films released
The Way From Germany (1946) Terry Trench [Crown Film Unit - Documentary]
I See a Dark Stranger (1946) Frank Launder [Individual Pictures. Comedy Spy Thriller]
Piccadilly Incident (1946) Herbert Wilcox [This melodrama was the second most successful film of 1946 at the box office, after The Wicked Lady]
A Matter of Life and Death (1946) Powell & Pressburger ['Begun towards the end of the war as a propaganda exercise to encourage Anglo-American understanding']
Caravan (1946) Arthur Crabtree [Gainsborough Melodrama]
The Magic Bow (1946) Bernard Knowles [Gainsborough, 'biopic': the end result is aimed far more at fans of Stewart Granger Gainsborough costume melodrama than to anyone seriously interested in Paganini's own work.]
Hue and Cry (1946) Charles Crighton [Ealing comedy]
Men of Two Worlds (1946) Thorold Dickinson [Two Cities]Great Expectations (1946) David Lean [Cineguild Independent Producers. Literary Adaptation]
January-March. Extraordinary winter freeze combined with power cuts. Followed by serious floods in the thaw.
April 1947: Raising of the School Leaving Age to 15.
August 1947: India receives its independence
Government attempts to reduce imports lead to punitive taxes on Hollywood films
Hollywood boycotts UK market
Rank restructures his interests to increase production
Black Narcissus (1947) Powell & Pressburger
Brighton Rock (1947) John Boulting: Spiv
Fame is the Spur (1947) Roy Boulting
Good-Time Girl (1947) David Macdonald [Gainsborough Melodrama]
Jassy (1947) Bernard Knowles [Gainsborough Melodrama]
The Odd Man Out (1947) Carol Reed [Two Cities]
Captain Boycott (1947) Frank Launder [ Individual Pictures. Biopic]
Holiday Camp (1947) Ken Annakin
February: Criminal Justice Act: abolishes hard labour / penal servitude / flogging
July 5th: Vesting day for the NHS. The new social security legislation also came into force.
Electricity industry nationalised
24th June 1948 Blockade of Berlin. Berlin Airlift goes on until 1949.
Children of the Ruins (1948) Jill Craigie [Documentary]
The Fallen Idol (1948) Carol Reed [ London Film Productions]
The Red Shoes (1948) Powell & Pressburger [One of Powell & Pressburger's best-loved films, 'The Red Shoe' , released in 1948, is perhaps the definitive ballet movie.]
Daybreak (1948) Compton Bennett [ General Film Distributors. Brit Noir]
London Belongs to Me (1948) Sidney Gilliat [Individual Pictures. 'Never quite clear whether it's a suspense thriller, a psychological drama, a comedy or a slice of social realism.']
Gas industry nationalised
96 films released
Harold Wilson President of the Board of Trade attempts national film policy
National Film Finance Corporation (NFFC) established
The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed [London Film Productions]
The Blue Lamp (1949) Basil Dearden
Boys in Brown (1949) Montgomery Tully
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) Robert Hamer [Ealing Comedy]
Passport to Pimlico (1949) Henry Cornelius [Ealing Comedy]
Whisky Galore! (1949) Alexander Mackendrick [Ealing Comedy]
The Queen of Spades (1949) Thorold Dickinson [ABPC /World Screenplays. Pushkin short story]
The Spider and the Fly (1949) Robert Hamer [Mayflower Pictures Corporation. Thriller]
Diamond City (1949) David MacDonald [Gainsborough. Based on the Western but set in South Africa / Colonial Adventure?]
Feb 23rd 1950: General Election. Labour majority of 6
Klaus Fuchs arrested as a spy
|82 films released
Lee: The Wooden Horse
Deardon: The Blue Lamp (Social Problem Films)
Odette (Biopic / War)
The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950) Frank Launder
The Pool of London (1950) Basil Dearden [Ealing]
|1951||Oct 25th 1951: General Election. Conservatives majority of 17.||
Boulting: High Treason (Anti-Communist)
Man in a White Suit (1951) Alexander Mackendrick [Ealing Comedy]
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) Charles Crighton [Ealing Comedy]
Hotel Sahara (1951) Ken Annakin [Comedy-Drama]