Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Two Ealing dramas: Saraband for Dead Lovers and The Rainbow Jacket

I was walking through Kettering market a couple of weeks ago and saw a stall selling DVDs. Among them was Saraband for Dead Lovers, an Ealing historical drama from 1948 - in fact, the first Ealing film to be made in colour. (The stall also had a copy of Matt at the Movies, but I decided to let it rest there.)

It tells the story of the illicit affair between Sophie Dorothea, wife of the future George I, and Count Konigsmark. The two are played by Joan Greenwood and Stewart Granger, who are as near to sexy as Ealing ever got.

But the most impressive performance comes from Flora Robson, who plays an ageing courtesan who is jealous of Greenwood and brings about the couple's ruin. (Granger is murdered and Greenwood spends the rest of life under a genteel version of house arrest.)

Everything looks pretty, but the film rather lacks dramatic tension. You could say the same of lots of British historical dramas from later years, which used to be shown on BBC1 in the evening when I was a boy.

The exception is a bravura scene where Greenwood is looking for Granger at a masked ball. The grotesque figures loom up in her face in a way surely influenced by German expressionism from the 1930s.

The Rainbow Jacket came from LoveFilm. It is a horse racing drama from 1954, written by T.E.B. Clarke, who also wrote some of the classic Ealing comedies.

Whatever its faults, the film looks lovely. There are shots of trainers' gallops and several major courses in lovely soft fifties colours, even if the actual race scenes rely too much on obvious back projection and mechanical horses.

The film tells the story of a disgraced jockey (played by Bill Owen - was he ever young?) and his young protege (Fella Edmonds). Edmonds' perfomance is not at all bad, but I suppose there was a limited market for likeable urchins in 1950s British films and he was up against Andrew Ray and David Hemmings. Hemmings even beats him by a short head in his first race. Anyway, there is a short interview with the adult Edmonds on kiddiematinee.com.

Kay Walsh is on hand, playing down the social scale surprisingly convincingly as the boy's mother, and the three stewards are played by Wilfred Hyde White, Robert Morley and Michael Trubshaw.

It is surprising that Ealing received so much cooperation from the racing authorities when the film depicts the sport as beset with corruption and bad characters.

Indeed, the best lines go to the villains. The best of all comes from Ronald Ward playing a bookie's fixer:
"There's a certain gentleman I know - using the term in its widest sense - who wouldn't be at all pleased if you were to win the Leger on Fair Noon."

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