Made in Britain, David Lean’s Hobson’s Choice

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Hobson's Choice
Hobson’s Choice: Charles Laughton as Henry Hobson is faced with a choice after his own name

Tuesday just gone, I popped along to Exeter’s Picturehouse, to check-out the latest film in their Made in Britain season, David Lean’s 1954 film, Hobson’s Choice.

Lean’s film is based upon the 1916 play by Harold Brighouse. Henry Hobson (Charles Laughton) runs a successful shoe-shop in Salford. However, he spends the majority of his time in the pub, drinking away the shop’s profits, while his three daughters take care of the house and run the shop. Maggie (Brenda De Banzie) – the eldest daughter – is the real brains behind the business’ success. So when her father decrees there will be no marriages, due to the expense of settlements – never mind Maggie’s age – Maggie decides to rebel.

Maggie sets her sights on marrying the shop’s, star-shoemaker, Will Mossop (John Mills), which she does, and then they swiftly open a rival shoe shop. Thanks to Maggie’s business acumen and Will’s shoemaking abilities, it isn’t long until their shop is a roaring success. Next, Maggie helps her two sisters get married, but what will poor or old Hobson make of it all?

The term which titles the film ‘Hobson’s Choice’ means no choice at all ie Henry Hobson either takes the option presented by his daughters or he doesn’t – in essence, ‘take it or leave it’. I’m sure the majority of my readers are aware of this little factoid, but I certainly wasn’t.

The film features some good acting from Charles Laughton, John Mills, Brenda De Banzie and even a young Prunella Scales (as Hobson’s youngest daughter). Laughton plays a loud, gregarious sort, who spends far too much time drinking. Mills plays a whimpering working-class goon, who is cherry picked by Maggie for his quality craftsmanship – and that alone!

The film’s best character is the devious, Maggie, who expertly manipulates everyone around her, although not in a malicious way. The film’s most interesting themes are all wrapped up in Maggie; specifically issues concerning age and gender. Maggie is 30 year’s old and therefore too old to be married and her gender makes it unthinkable that she – a woman –  could run a shop on her own. Gosh!

While the film is perfectly enjoyable, with several moments of comedy, it is ultimately, a rather mediocre affair and it has little of the grandeur of David Lean’s later films, most obviously, Lawrence of Arabia.

Once again, this is an interesting pick for the ‘Made in Britain’ season, but not a hugely gratifying film.

The fifth and final film in the Made in Britain season, at the Exeter’s Picturehouse, is Quatermass and The Pitt, on Tuesday, July 3 at 6.30pm.