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A union leader in a large company tries to win equal rights for the handful of West Indian workers at the company, but finds it is an uphill battle. After being successful, and rightly proud of his efforts, he finds that he and his wife have a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that his only daughter intends to marry a West Indian. Written by
Kevin Steinhauer <K.Steinhauer@BoM.GOV.AU>
`Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?' among the British working class
Some people might steer clear of this movie because of its race relations theme. They'd be missing a good movie.
Despite a few warts, this is mostly a well-acted and well-directed drama. To be sure, some of the issues that the characters confront are dated. However, other issues are as relevant today as they were in 1961 when this film was made.
Above all else, I enjoyed the dominating performance of the always reliable John Mills. I enjoyed his stirring speeches as Jacko Palmer, a leader in his labor union. I also enjoyed his sensitive handling of family issues, trying to negotiate a difficult path between the starkly conflicting viewpoints of his wife Nell and his daughter Kathie.
Some of the dialogue in this movie is painful to hear. A couple of white factory workers tell Jacko `We don't like to take orders from spades.' Nell Palmer tells her daughter `They're not like us . If you marry him (her West Indian boyfriend), you'll have a roomful of black children . The thought of them (Kathie and her boyfriend) in bed makes me sick . You're worse than a whore.' Nell uses the `N word' twice.
Not surprisingly, Kathie shrugs off her mother's acid-tongued advice. However, it's harder for her to ignore her father's advice, which is geared toward making her understand the risks of her (marriage) decision. Her reasoning is so clouded by love that she tells him `Prejudice will end someday.' Well, not in her lifetime, as we in the 21st Century know.
The movie is sometimes heavy-handed and melodramatic. Even the title is somewhat `inflammatory' (There is only one flame in the movie ... a large bonfire, a British tradition for the celebration of Guy Fawkes Day). The movie ends without a tidy resolution, but this is fitting considering the predicament of the characters and their social environment.
I reviewed this movie as part of a project at the Library of Congress. I've named the project FIFTY: 50 Notable Films Forgotten Within 50 Years. As best I can determine, this film, like the other forty-nine I've identified, has not been on video, telecast, or distributed in the U.S. since its original release. In my opinion, it is worthy of being made available again.
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