A full-blooded post-War British melodrama set during World War 2, adapted from a stage play, co-scripted by Dylan Thomas and directed by Daniel Birt (see also THE THREE WEIRD SISTERS) and starring hatchet-faced Freda Jackson as wicked landlady Mrs Voray who takes in orphaned children and spends their allowance on drink and finery. Narrated in flashback by Mary O'Rane (Ann Stephens) as she recalls the experiences that turned both her and fellow orphan Norma Bates (get that name!), played by feisty Joan Dowling, into petty thieves, this has apparently been considerably opened out by co-scripter Thomas, to take in a less than thinly veiled attack on Church and State, as well as the kind of class hypocrisy that allowed middle-class types to tut-tut behind their net curtains at the dirty-faced urchins and carousing working-class slatterns, whilst simultaneously cooking up barely credible excuses not to take the hapless youngsters in; even when begged by a selfless and community-spirited young schoolmistress. Described at the time by 'Today's Cinema' as a '...completely sordid canvas...' and a work of '...cruelty which has no parallel on British screens...', this was clearly strong meat in its day and, even though time has dimmed much of its initial power and rendered some of its sentiment a shade sugary, its theatrics a trifle hammy and its portentous religious overtones somewhat trite and banal, this is still an undeniably downbeat tale of often almost Victorian squalor. Partially leavened by occasional shafts of wit (e.g. Voray recalls her ex-husband 'Nobody bothered about his family tree - except the dogs'), humorous comic stereotypes and sharp-tongued kids, this still packs a fair wallop; thanks in no small measure to Jackson's vividly etched turn as the kind of vicious and spiteful harridan who appears to have stepped out of a tale by the Brothers Grimm. Definitely worth a look for those interested in the often overblown, but nevertheless entertaining, school of post-War British genre cinema.
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