Monday, November 30, 2020

Freda Jackson and No Room at the Inn

Talking Pictures TV continues to be a national treasure. A couple of weekend ago screened an extraordinary British film from 1948.

Based on a 1945 play, No Room at the Inn deals with a woman who is paid to take in wartime evacuee children, but spends the money on herself and leaving the children to live in hunger and squalor. It has a strange, dark, fairy tale atmosphere and the screenplay is partly the work of the poet Dylan Thomas.

What really makes the film is the performance of Freda Jackson as the villainous Mrs Voray. A witch to the children, she makes herself attractive to men and plays the wronged saint when her treatment of her young charges is questioned.

I did not recognise her name, but I have seen her before. Before No Room at the Inn she had been a ferocious Mrs Joe in David Lean's Great Expectation and the more sympathetic figure of Prudence Honeywood, the woman farmer Sheila Sim goes to work for in A Canterbury Tale.

And, like many actors from British cinema's golden age, she was still around on television decades later - Freda Jackson appeared in Blake's 7.

Watching No Room at the Inn, I suspected there may have been an even darker story to be told and I was right. Because the film was based on a stage play that had opened in London in July 1945.

And that play has a different ending. In the film the evil Mrs Voray dies after falling down the stairs. But in the play, which I now have a copy of... Let's just say her death is not accidental.

Freda Jackson played the role on the stage too, and a Nottingham Post profile of her records:
Such was the power of her performance, audiences are said to have stood and cheered when her character was finally vanquished.
She is that good in the film too.

Freda Jackson lived in Northampton for many years and was married to the artist Harry Bird, who deserves a post of his own one day.

A play about child abuse that was premiered in the summer of 1945 will have been staged, if not written, in the shadow of the scandal over the death of Dennis O'Neill. And there are details in the play that make you think its author, Joan Temple, had that case and the reaction to it in mind.

It also provides more fuel for my theory - once the subject of a book chapter - that child abuse of all kinds is not the recent discovery that much professional literature believes.

In No Room at the Inn, a woman called Kate Grant goes to the Revd. Allworth to try to get him to help one of the children. The following exchange takes place:
ALLWORTH: I do beg you not to think me unsympathetic. If I told you about the cases I have here! One wretched girl is pregnant - only fifteen, and she's got a bad case of V.D.!

KATE (rising): God in heaven! And with that case before you, you turn your back on a child who may - through neglect - become just such another case one of these days.
Not that the play is without humour. When another character challenges her, Mrs Voray's reaction is:
Well, you can't tell me much about children. I've buried three of me own.
One of the children, incidentally, was played both on stage and screen by Joan Dowling, who I have blogged about before.

You can find a version of the film of No Room at the Inn online, but it lasts only an hour when the version screened by Talking Pictures TV ran for 90 minutes.

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