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This Happy Breed

(1944 c 111')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Based on a play by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean, two veterans of the Great War return to England, become neighbors, and raise their children.

            In 1919 men are coming home to London after four years of war. Frank Gibbons (Robert Newton) welcomes his wife Ethel (Celia Johnson) and her mother Mrs. Flint (Amy Veness) to number 17, their new home. Two men are helping them move in their things. Ethel makes tea, and she is glad the war is over. She is afraid there may be another war, but he says there won’t be. Frank did not like living where they were with her mother. He looks at Ethel’s face and asks for a kiss. Their neighbor Bob Mitchell (Sterling Holloway) introduces himself. Frank remembers him from the war, and they are glad to see each other. They decide to celebrate, and Ethel goes and brings them a drink. Frank says he has a son and two daughters. They drink to happy days.

            Soldiers parade in the street as a crowd cheers. Ethel and Frank watch and wave little flags. Bob makes comments. An exhibition on the British empire opens in April 1924. Bob’s son Billy Mitchell (John Mills) wears a sailor cap. He and his father go with the Gibbons to a carnival with rides. Billy is with Queenie Gibbons (Kay Walsh).

            At Christmas time Frank is trying to listen to a radio. His son Reg Gibbons (John Blythe) asks for some port. At dinner Reg asks Sam Leadbitter (Guy Verney) to make a speech. He stands up and talks about class hatred and the poor. He criticizes Queenie and the capitalist system. Edie (Merle Tottenham) clears off the table. Billy calls on Queenie and Phyllis Blake (Betty Fleetwood). Billy and Queenie talk privately, and he says they were seen together. He asks her for a goodbye kiss. She gives him a nice kiss, and he says he loves her. She wishes he wasn’t going away. He asks if she will marry him later on when he gets some money. She says she is not the right girl for him because she wants too much. She admits she hates living there and listening to Aunt Sylvia. She says she would not be a good wife for him. He embraces her and says it is all right. She is crying, apologizes and runs upstairs. Frank walks with Billy who is going away that Christmas night. Billy asks if Frank would mind if he married Queenie in a couple years. Frank says it is up to her. Billy says she does not want to marry a sailor. Billy asks Frank to put in a good word for him and leaves. Frank hears Aunt Sylvia (Alison Leggatt) singing and avoids the women. Ethel finds Frank smoking a cigar and sits down. They discuss the views of Sam. Frank says their ways are slower.

            The newspaper reports a general strike, and the steel plant is closed. Men march in the street with red banners. At the dinner table a newspaper announces the strike is over. Sylvia argues with Mrs. Flint, and Ethel complains about their bickering. Mrs. Flint feels insulted, and Sylvia says she will leave tomorrow. Ethel tells Sylvia to stop crying. Queenie pours tea for her mother and Sylvia, who goes upstairs. Queenie rubs Ethel’s back as they talk. Vi (Eileen Erskine) calls on them and asks about Reg. Frank and Bob come in singing, and Ethel assumes they’ve been drinking. They admit it, and Bob asks for another drink. Ethel persuades him to leave. Ethel serves Frank his supper. Reg comes home with a bandage around his head. Sam says it is not serious. Reg says he feels fine. Vi hopes Reg will feel better, and he invites her to come around. Phyllis is angry at Sam and tells him to get out. He leaves. Frank tells Queenie to lock up and says goodnight. Frank finds Reg and gives him a cigarette. They smoke and talk in Reg’s room. Frank says he does not see things the way Reg does, but Frank recognizes his right to have his own views. Frank suggests he go deeper to discover human nature. Reg says if everyone had a chance, human nature would improve. Frank advises him that his generation made sacrifices, and many of them are gone. Frank says their country is tired, and they have to keep things steady. He tells him not to run off the way he did again.

            Sam weds Vi, and they get into a car. A magazine shows the fashions of 1928. An orchestra plays at a dance. Queenie and a young man demonstrate the Charleston. In 1929 Broadway Melody is showing, and Sam says he can afford it. He and Vi watch the talking movie. Queenie is still living at home. Edie talks with Frank in the yard. Frank talks to Bob over the wall. Reg calls to his dad to come up to his room. Reg asks him which tie to wear, and Frank ties it for him. Frank wants to tell him about the facts of life and asks if he has been a good boy. Reg admits he has had bits of fun. Frank warns him some women only want to have a good time. He says that Phyllis really loves him. Reg thanks him for the advice. Reg asks Billy if he has the ring. Queenie sees Billy and apologizes about last night. He realizes now that she does not love him. He does not blame her, but he feels low. He calls her a funny girl because she wants everything. She says he is being nasty, and he asks if she is in love with someone else. She refuses to answer that. He says he has cared about her and has the right to ask her anything. She admits there is someone else, but she is not going to marry him. He asks if he is married, and she says he is. He says what she is doing is wrong, and it could cause trouble. He warns her she is mucking up her life. Billy says goodbye and good luck and goes up to talk with Reg. Frank and Ethel come down, and Queenie says she will never be a bridesmaid again. She calls her father sarcastic. She says he never improves himself. Ethel scolds her and asks her to repent her sins. Frank says they are not grand enough for Queenie. She says Vi is different than her. She says Sam has become respectable like everyone else. Frank tells her to behave herself in their house. She goes out, and Frank says they spoiled  her. Ethel says she is upset about something, but she does not know what it is. The groom Reg is ready, and he goes in a car with Billy to the church. Ethel cries, and Frank consoles her. Mrs. Flint and Sylvia come downstairs. Sam and Vi arrive, and Bob is there. They are waiting for the car to come back. Mrs. Flint remembers the wedding of Ethel and Frank. She thinks she may die soon. Queenie comes in carrying a bouquet. Sylvia criticizes Mrs. Flint, and they quarrel. Sylvia complains to the others about Mrs. Flint nagging her. She starts crying, and they all stand up. The car has arrived, and they all go out and leave in the car.

            On a rainy night Queenie is leaving with a suitcase and puts an envelope on the mantel. Bob and Frank come in drunk and have a nightcap. They drink toasts and have another. They go into Frank’s shop and talk about Queenie. Frank pours another. Frank is worried about Japan, but Bob says England has a new government now. Ethel comes downstairs and tells Frank to go to bed. She helps Bob with his coat and makes him leave. She warns them about going to another regimental meeting. She finds the letter from Queenie and reads it. She says she is gone and shows it to Frank. He asks if she has ever seen him, and she says no. She went away with the married man. Ethel says she does not want to see her again. Franks disagrees and is willing to forgive her. Franks says she did not care for Queenie as much as for the others. Ethel denies that but will not forgive her.

            Frank is watering his garden. Inside Sylvia is setting the table and talks with Mrs. Flint about Queenie. Sylvia says a letter came to Frank with a French stamp. Ethel comes in and does not want Queenie mentioned in the house. Ethel turns the radio back on and apologizes to Sylvia. Ethel says she had a bad dream. She pours tea and takes it out to Frank. Edie lets in Vi, who says Reg and Phyllis died in an accident. Sylvia cries. Vi goes in the backyard, and Ethel and Frank come back slowly in grief.

            Ethel and Frank are sitting in a park, and he suggests they get some tea. He says they have not walked together for years. They hear a speaker talking about fascism and Germany. In the Parliamentary election of 1935 Bob tells Frank it will be a landslide.

            At home a radio announces the King’s illness is bringing an end to his life. In a church mourning people pass by the royal coffin. 1936 is almost over. Sam talks with Sylvia who is going to a spiritual temple. Sam asks if she would go to a doctor if she broke her leg. Frank tells Sylvia that Mrs. Flint did not pass over but died. Ethel washes dishes, and Frank dries them as they talk. Ethel says Edie is a good worker, and they should keep her on. Billy comes in and is greeted warmly. Billy wants to tell them something about Queenie. Ethel says she is no longer angry. Frank asks how she is. Billy says he saw her and that she is fine. Billy says that she realized she did wrong. The man went back to his wife and left her stranded. Ethel asks how long it took her to find another man. Billy says it took three years. She got appendicitis and met a Scotsman in the hospital. They went on a summer cruise, and Billy met her. Billy says Queenie is next door with his father. He married her. Frank says he can’t believe it, embraces Billy, and goes out. Ethel cries, and Billy offers her a nip. He brings her a drink. Frank comes in with Queenie. Ethel calls her a bad girl and hugs her.

            News is about Munich, and people prepare for war. Ethel and Queenie are walking a baby carriage. In the evening people rally by #10 Downing Street, and Prime Minister Chamberlain waves from the window.

            Vi helps Sylvia with yarn, and Frank comes in. Frank is skeptical of the cheering. Sylvia says they are glad that war was avoided. Frank gives them a lecture about war. He says the people are frightened, and he opposes appeasement. Sylvia argues for peace, gets upset, and walks out. Vi says goodnight to her father and mother. Frank asks Ethel how Queenie is. She says Queenie is going to visit Billy and will leave the baby with them. Frank says Bob is coming over for a binge, and Ethel says she will take the bottle away from them. Bob comes in and says he is moving. He says goodbye to Ethel and shakes her hand. Frank and Bob are drinking. Bob says they are just the same. They remember the night Queenie went off. Frank says he and Ethel will be moving on too, and he wonders what will happen to their rooms. They say they will miss each other.

            Luggage is going to Singapore, and Queenie says goodbye to her parents, kissing and  hugging them. She gets on the boat and waves.

            Ethel and Frank are taking care of the baby. They are leaving their home, and Frank says he will miss his garden. He says the room seems smaller without the furniture. He says it does not matter where they go as long as he is with her. They go out, and he closes the door.

            This realistic drama portrays a middle-class family and their neighbors whose lives are intertwined. Though set between two terrible wars, the interval seems rather peaceful and happy as they express their different personalities.

Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

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