British Cinema History





Michael Balcon

The War Years 40’s

The Second World War caused a minor miracle to happen to movie making in the Britain. A new spirit of enthusiasm coupled with strenuous work led to the abandonment of the stupidity and extravagance of the previous decade. After a faltering start, British films began to make increasing use of documentary techniques and former documentary film-makers to make more realistic films, like In Which We Serve (1942), Went the Day Well? (1942).

With many of the employees being engaged in war work, available manpower was reduced to one third and half of the studio space was requisitioned, only sixty films were produced annually. New realism in wartime pictures and a demand for documentaries gave a whole new look to British films.
Initially, many cinemas closed down for fear of air raids, but the public needed a way of escaping the reality of war, and turned to the more genteel, sanitized versions available in the cinema. The majority was war related, The Stars Look Down; 49th Parallel; Convoy and This Happy Breed.

Some of the finest British work came out of the period including Brief Encounter; The Wicked Lady; The Man in Grey; Olivier’s Henry V. New directors, artists and writers came to the fore, David Lean as a director, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat as writers and Richard Attenborough, Michael Redgrave, David Niven and Stewart Granger were elevated to stardom.

In post war Britain, during the period 1945-1955, the Rank Organization, with Michael Balcon at the helm, was the dominant force in film production and distribution. It acquired a number of British studios, and bank-rolled some of the great British film-makers which were emerging in this period. Their rivals, Korda's London Films continued to expand, taking over the British Lion Film Corporation in 1946 and Shepperton Studios the following year.

1949 was a bad year financially partly due to a series of good, but big budget movies. The Red Shoes; Hamlet; Fallen Idol; Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Smaller budget productions also left there mark with Passport to Pimlico; and the very successful Kind Hearts and Coronets that established Alec Guinness as a star.
























The British Watermark 1950 – 59

It was symptomatic of the changing entertainment habits of the general public that Rank sold their Lime Grove Studios in West London to the BBC in 1949. Television was just beginning to have an effect on the film industry. During the 1950' and early 60's Films had to learn to be more exportable and welcome to foreign audiences. Many achieved both of these criteria among them works by David Lean and Carol Reed.

Then in 1947, Ealing's comedy Hue and Cry, was a surprise hit. An entertaining story of a criminal gang foiled by an enthusiastic army of schoolboys, the film met a public desire for relief after years of fighting and continuing hardships.

The studio released many comedies before and during the war but 'Ealing Comedy' proper began in 1949, with the consecutive release of Passport to Pimlic, Whisky Galore! and Kind Hearts and Coronet. The Lavender Hill Mob was also very successful, in which a mild-mannered bank clerk masterminds a robbery of the Bank of England's gold reserves.

There were important newcomers in the acting field that had international appeal, Jack Hawkins, Kenneth More, Richard Todd, Richard Burton and Peter Finch. British actresses of this calibre remained scarce. Films like The Lady Killers; Genevieve; The Cruel Sea and The Colditz Story helped to keep the UK's reputation high. Funding was also kept up by well made popular, but erring on schoolboy bathroom humour series. Which included the Doctor and the Carry On series. An unusual success in this decade The Blue Lamp which was a documentary on life in Britain at the time. Interestingly it actually was more of a tribute to the police written by won of their own.

Also the fifties saw the beginning of Hammer Horror studios which went to be by far the most successful studio in the History of the British Isles. It launched the careers of Christopher lee and Peter Cushing and the directorial success of Terence Fisher.















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