Cinema From the Rubble: The Post-War Politics of Ealing Studios

Cinema From the Rubble: The Post-War Politics of Ealing Studios                           a lecture by Benedict Morrison                   April 2024

Benedict began his fascinating talk by telling us how these comedies were  looked down upon by the critics of the time- such as Francois Duffort  – preferring the dark post war films of Italy and France and yet they were seriously political. Bevis Hillier described them as whimsical, archaic cosy and charming. They were considered trivial, apolitical and even damaging.

Ealing studios were founded in 1902 and were the longest serving film studios.

In 1938 Michael Bolton took over and Ealing Comedies began to be mildly anarchic.

Before 1945 the films were based around stars such as George Formby.

Then began the era of Britain in Ruins. The comedies engaged with the destruction of the British landscape but showing a very British response to disaster- to laugh !

They began a war on 5 giant evils – Want/Disease/ Ignorance /Squalor and Idleness.

The Cinema was in ruins . The Italian response was to produce tragedies and searing melodramas which compared so starkly with  British comedies of this time showing children enjoying playing in the rubble. The approach to play is what inspired these comedies. opportunities are revealed.  The world had changed.  Ruins were allowing intellectual play , woman had been out to work, men had developed comradeship, children had become much more independent and workers from the Caribbean were arriving.

Ealing did produce serious films such as ” It Always Rains on Sundays and “Blue Lamp’

A Plan for Britain emerged , based on the ideal that people need to be managed  ( Benedict likened this to the Ikea effect – in that the way we are directed around the store and obliged to focus on things those in charge want us to focus on ) Working and playing freely through the ruins was dangerous but leads to creative ideas whereas with plans and organisation are very limiting.

Benedict then focussed on two films – Passport to Plimlico which becomes about what it means to be British and contains explosions of bombs/unregulated behaviour/heat/the course of history and porous national identity. The porous resolution combats rationing and waste.

Ealing is anti-individualist but idiosyncrasy. It is about eccentric communities built on ideas of improvisation, collaboration, transgression and joy. It is a celebration of porous communities. It depicts a brand of democracy that laughs at officialdom.

Benedict ending this enthralling and amusing lecture with an excerpt from The Lavender Hill Mob where laughter equals a policy of defiance. It is subversive, transgressive, naughty, mischievous and very very funny.

Our eyes had been opened by Benedict’s extremely entertaining yet insightful lecture – not  unlike the films from the post war Ealing studios.