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"Winifred Holtby realised that Local Government is not a dry affair of meetings and memoranda:- but 'the front-line defence thrown up by humanity against its common enemies of sickness, poverty and ignorance.' She built her story around six people working for a typical County Council:- Beneath the lives of the public servants runs the thread of their personal drama. Our story tells how a public life affects the private life; and how a man's personal sufferings make him what he is in public. " Corruption, intrigue and romance in a Yorkshire setting. A country squire whose wife is in a mental hospital becomes attracted to a crusading local schoolmistress. Written by
Michael Crew <email@example.com>
After watching South Riding, researching Winifred Holtby and learning of her life was even more fascinating than this film version of her novel. She can best be compared in America to Margaret Mitchell whose one epic work assured her reputation.
South Riding is the name of the town in the rural area of Yorkshire where Holtby grew up and from where she drew her characters for this novel. She'd been a newspaper writer for years and during the Twenties developed kidney disease. Knowing she had a limited amount of time left on earth, she wrote this novel as a portrait of the area of the United Kingdom she knew and loved and the people of it.
The lead character in South Riding is Ralph Richardson an aristocrat whose dwindling fortune is used to support daughter Glynis Johns in a posh girl's school and to keep her mentally unstable mother Ann Todd in the best sanitarium pound sterling can buy. Richardson is a man who is aware of his civic responsibility and serves on the area County Council. After initially opposing Edna Best's appointment as schoolteacher, he and Best find out they have a lot more in common than originally supposed.
Another councilor is John Clements who is a socialist and an ill man constantly coughing. That was an aspect of the character not drawn out by the film, I suspect the novel has a lot more to say about it. He's deeply concerned with slum clearance and has devoted himself to ridding South Riding of a row of shacks where the poor live.
Another councilor Milton Rosmer sees a quick shilling or two to be made in making sure he owns the land the houses are to be built on. Rosmer enlists Edmund Gwenn another councilor with a lovely skeleton in his closet in his scheme and they join Clements as 'reform' advocates for slum clearance.
I didn't read about Winnifred Holtby ever visiting America, but what I was watching reminded a whole lot of Chicago rather than Yorkshire.
Alexander Korda produced South Riding and director Victor Saville got great performances out of his whole cast, especially from Ralph Richardson. South Riding was later a television series for the BBC during the Seventies and I can see aspects of it easily adapting to a prime time soap opera type show.
I think Winnifred Holtby who died in 1935, three years before South Riding came to the screen would have been very proud of what Alexander Korda and Victor Saville were able to accomplish with her labor of love. She sounds like a great subject for a film herself.
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