Monday, March 25, 2019

Children and bombsites in postwar British films

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I am becoming intrigued by the treatment of children and bombsites in British films.

In Ealing's Hue and Cry (1947), a damaged London belongs to errand boys and the film celebrates their independence and resourcefulness.

In Mandy (1952), the final scene of liberation, where the little deaf girl goes out to play with other children, takes place on a bombsite.

Last night I watched Passport to Pimlico (1949) last night and it proved a little more equivocal.

The local bobby visits a woman whose husband is always making models.

"It's an idea for that dump out there," she tells him, meaning a bombsite. "Give those kids somewhere decent to play."

He looks out at the small boys scuffling in the dirt and replies: "They seem to be doing pretty well as it is."

She replies: "I'd have something to say if I was their mother."

Maybe this romanticism about children and bombsites is a male thing.

Whatever the truth of that, if you move on a few years bombsites are seen very differently.

In The Yellow Balloon (1953) and The Weapon (1956), bombsites are places where terrible things befall small boys who play on them.

Part of this, I suspect, is to do with an anxiety that the nuclear family need to be reinforced as more collectivist wartime era recedes.

The boys in Hue and Cry have jobs and long trousers, but the 1950s boys seem infantilised in comparison. Andrew Ray in The Yellow Balloon is given a hiding by his father Kenneth More.

I shall keep an eye out for more bombsites on Talking Pictures TV. Perhaps the indulgent view of children on bombsites was a particularly Ealing characteristic?

Later. I returned to this subject when writing about The Heart Within, a 1957 film featuring a young David Hemmings.

Even Later. The Magnet, which stars a very young James Fox, suggests that Ealing was changing its mind about bombsites by 1950.


Phil Beesley said...

On my birth day, Dennis Waterman played in a Richmal Corompton drama on the BBC.

I am convinced that Waterman will still be on telly when I die.

Anonymous said...

On the same thing, do you know the Cecil Day-Lewis children's novel The Otterbury Incident, set around a bomb site in a provincial English town?
With best wishes from Dr Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Theme, not thing... Dr A

Jonathan Calder said...

Thanks, Doc, I will look out for that one. I have a feeling I may have read it when I was very young.