Monday, November 21, 2022

Innocent Sinners: Another film about children and bombsites

Thanks to Talking Pictures TV and its catch-up site Encore, last night I watched another film about children and bombsites.

Innocent Sinners came out in 1958, which makes it later than any of the films discussed in the long post Children and bombsites in post-war British films I wrote for a blog carnival on British films in September. (It is, though, based on a Rumer Godden novel published in 1955.)

The first thing to say is that it's a very good film. With their  strong personalities and odd names - Lovejoy, Tip and Sparkey - its central characters are typical of the Rumer Godden children I have seen in other films.

And the director Philip Leacock (I will admit I had him hopelessly mixed up with the Canadian writer Stephen Leacock until I sat down to write this) has a way of making children touching without a hint of sentimentality - his film The Kidnappers is another example.

For me the most interesting thing about Innocent Sinners is that its central character is a girl. When she starts planting a garden on a bomb site, it is rubbed out by a gang of boys who tell her that girls have no business there.

This gendering of space (hem hem) is implicit in these films, in that almost all the children we see are boys, but rarely is it spelled out like this.

Tip, the leader of the gang, makes amends by finding her a better site within a bomb-damaged church and becomes caught up in the garden project himself.

The film is also interesting in that it shows that, while respectable society sees the bomb-site children as a "gang", the sites in fact give Lovejoy and Tip a bit of privacy away from their inadequate homes.

And the enemies they encounter there are not the murderers who pursued Andrew Ray in The Yellow Balloon or Jon Whiteley in The Weapon, but mundane forces like magistrates and  residents' associations. 

There is indeed a class element to the film, with the working-class children's encroachment upon an affluent square setting up its denouement. 

All ends well. thanks to a Dickensian act of philanthropy - as befits the only bomb site film with a girl at its centre, we have a benevolent spinster to thank rather than the usual benevolent bachelor.

As a lover of Dickens I'm not worried by the ending, though you could argue that it's a little too pat. Should Tip be quite so overjoyed at being sent to a training ship? 

Still, in rejecting the celebration of the family that ends The Yellow Balloon, Innocent Sinners does acknowledge that some children who frequented bomb sites did not have much of a family to return to.

And it's a really good film: perhaps more interesting than any I discussed in my original post. I now want to read the Rumer Godden novel, An Episode of Sparrows, on which it was based.

I am afraid Innocent Sinners has already gone from the TPTV Encore site. But it's a film the channel has shown before, so it may appear again.

Finally, the (I hope) good news is that I have found a book with a chapter on these children and bomb site films, so when I have read it I shall write another post discussing what it says.

Later. A couple of weeks after posting this, I came across an interesting contemporary article about the casting of June Archer, who played Lovejoy.


Dominic N said...

Rumer Godden's novel is a masterpiece, in my view. Cinematic description, eye-wateringly vivid characterisation, and shot through with finely-balanced bittersweetness. The same eye for detail and understanding of children that Malcolm Saville had. Warmly recommended!

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you for the recommendation!