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  Young Wives' Tale Fool House
Year: 1951
Director: Henry Cass
Stars: Joan Greenwood, Nigel Patrick, Derek Farr, Helen Cherry, Guy Middleton, Audrey Hepburn, Athene Seyler, Fabia Drake, Selma Vaz Dias, Irene Handl, Carole James, Jack McNaughton, Brian Oulton, Joan Sanderson
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: During the early nineteen-fifties, the British housing crisis is in full flow with many families and friends forced to share accommodations since there are too few houses to go around thanks to a combination of the population explosion and the lack of building work going on. One such existing house belongs to the Bannings, Bruce (Derek Farr) and Mary (Helen Cherry), who have a two-year-old daughter, and have agreed to bring in their married friends Rodney (Nigel Patrick) and Sabina (Joan Greenwood), who also have a child, a little boy slightly older. Not only that, but there is a lodger in the house as well, a young lady called Eve (Audrey Hepburn), making for a somewhat chaotic living arrangement - not to mention the harassed nanny (Fabia Drake).

Quite often it is instructive to have a look back at movies from yesteryear to gather an impression of what life was like in a specific place and time, and though many of them were not intended as social documents and purely meant to entertain, various telling signs cannot help but appear to indicate what the circumstances it was created in were. Though Young Wives' Tale was based on a hit play with a view to gently satirising how the middle-class British coped with that aforementioned housing crisis - yes, it was genuine - as a film it was somewhat lost when released in cinemas; those who saw it mostly liked it, but they were far and few between. This was odd when you look at what was a pretty starry cast back in 1951, though guaranteeing its re-release a few years later was Hepburn.

She would quickly become one of the most beloved movie stars of all time when Roman Holiday gave her the lead in a Hollywood blockbuster, but back then she was merely a supporting starlet, and reportedly getting bullied by director Henry Cass on the set, though Patrick and Greenwood recognised her vulnerability and went some way to protect her. Patrick was a huge star in Britain this decade, a debonair light leading man who represented someone to aspire to: he could do the pratfalls and get funny lines, but his essential composure was never far away. Greenwood, meanwhile, was a sex symbol, not so much on the strength of her looks, though they didn't hurt, but because of her husky, silky, plummy voice; nobody else sounded like her and nobody sounds like her today, which lends her a strange fascination, it was all in the delivery.

Filling out the rest of the cast were Farr and Cherry, the former a dependable second division Patrick in approach, and the latter better known for her Shakespearean stage work and less fortunately, as the longsuffering wife of hellraiser and womaniser Trevor Howard. With that in mind she seems remarkably together here as a career woman who refuses to stay at home, an indication of where society was going, and hence the need for a nanny (first Drake, then Athene Seyler, expert in imperious old lady roles for about fifty years). Guy Middleton, impeccably caddish as usual, also showed up as a smooth black marketeer who makes a play for Sabina and triggers all sorts of misunderstandings that suggest in different times this plot could have resulted in an outright orgy, but everyone manages to behave themselves. Or at least they do because life is so stressful for them that they really do not have a grasp on it, in that way there was a streak of subversion to be seen for the ideals of the nuclear family. Some lines still raised a laugh, but in the main it was the attitudes that contained the interest, looking forward, but backwards in addition. OK, that and Audrey Hepburn's presence. Music by Philip Green.

[Network release this on Blu-ray as part of The British Film with an image gallery and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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