Noel Coward's attempt to show how the ordinary people lived between the wars. Just after WWI the Gibbons family moves to a nice house in the suburbs. An ordinary sort of life is led by the ... See full summary »
Noel Coward's attempt to show how the ordinary people lived between the wars. Just after WWI the Gibbons family moves to a nice house in the suburbs. An ordinary sort of life is led by the family through the years with average number of triumphs and disasters until the outbreak of WWII. Written by
Steve Crook <email@example.com>
Twenty years between wars in the history of a British family
The Gibbons family is "This Happy Breed," a 1944 film starring Robert Newton, Celia Johnson, Sterling Holloway, John Mills and Kay Walsh. The story begins with the end of World War I in 1919 with the return of Frank Gibbons (Newton) to his family - wife Ethel (Johnson), son Reg (John Blythe) and daughters Queenie (Kay Walsh) and Vi (Eileen Erskine) as they begin their life in a new home. The next 20 years bring weddings, births, tragedy, and death, as it does to all of us. Queenie is being courted by a sailor, Bill (Mills) who wants to marry her, but she wants to better her class and says she can't be happy with him; Vi falls in love and marries, as does Reg. Frank becomes a travel agent after the war and finds that one of his service friends (Holloway) lives next door. They become best buddies and provide the film's humor as they attempt to drink in secret. Ethel meanwhile has to cope with two somewhat difficult characters: the hypochondriacal Aunt Sylvia (Alison Leggatt) and Ethel's mother (Amy Veness) who live with them.
One thing interesting about British films that deal with the war - "In Which We Serve," "The 49th Parallel," and this one, for instance - one is made aware of the hardships, loss, sacrifice and sadness, while American films have a much more romantic quality to them. Though "This Happy Breed" ends just at the dawn of World War II, there is discussion of the European situation, fascism, and a general fear of another war in light of what they all went through in the last one.
"This Happy Breed" is another triumph, though an unsung one, for two wonderful artists - David Lean and Noel Coward, who worked together in this film, "Blithe Spirit" and "In Which We Serve" and had so many brilliant accomplishments on their own. The Gibbons feel like a real family, with a no-nonsense, hard-working matriarch, her more relaxed, emotional husband, and three children who go their separate ways in life and meet turmoil, normalcy, or tragedy. The most touching scene in the movie for me was the talk that Frank has with Reg before his wedding. "Always put your wife first," Frank says after he finally gets Reg to stop kidding around and listen to him.
I wasn't expecting this slice of life to be a tear-jerker, but it was, due to the beautiful acting of Celia Johnson and Robert Newton especially. They are the rocks of the film, providing its center. When Queenie runs off with a married man, she is shunned and disowned by Ethel, yet one can tell just by her movements that she is as heartbroken and worried as she is angry. Frank seems to accept what she says, yet once he's alone, he breaks down and sobs.
"This Happy Breed" sneaks up on you; before you know it, you're involved with the Gibbons. They're the stuff Britain is made of, the stuff that gets the country through its darkest times. A little gem; don't miss it. Oh, and I knew that was Laurence Olivier's voice in the beginning.
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