It's the early twentieth century. The Morel family lives in the coal mining community of Bestwood, England, just outside of Nottingham. There is little connection now between husband and wife, Walter and Gertrude, due to their differences, while each quietly or not so quietly is able to manipulate emotionally their now adult sons. While eldest son William has escaped the clutches of his parents by moving to London, each of the two remaining sons have ended up having a natural alliance or connection to one parent. Arthur, like brusque Walter, works in the mines, something that Walter believes is their duty and legacy. Artistically inclined Paul, who is self-taught in his art, instead has a lower paying office job, in Gertrude's mind it a longer path but to greater financial gain, Paul who is never to work in the mines. Paul, arguably, would live as a painter if he was able. Paul's relationship with two women is shown in light of the influence Gertrude has had in his life, he who has ...Written by
You know, my mother disapproves more and more of the books you bring. She blames you for putting ideas into my head.
Does she think heaven frowns on ideas? Your mother breathes religion through her nostrils!
Do you think that's wrong?
It's not religious just to be religious! I think a crow is religious as it sails across the sky. It's showing the glory of God but it doesn't know it. God doesn't know things, he is things.
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Freddie Francis's cinematography is in some ways the star. It is not showy or intrusive. It's totally organic to the unfolding of the plot. Yet it is exquisite -- both with landscapes and with actors. This is especially true with Trevor Howard, very powerful as a boozy miner.
The other star is that great actress Wendy Hiller. Her role is far from entirely sympathetic. She suffocates her favorite son, well played by Dean Stockwell. She is demanding in a quiet way and selfish in a manner passing itself off as martyrdom. But what a gorgeous performance! Mary Ure was a fine actress. Somehow, though, the character she plays doesn't entirely work in my view. It seems more from kitchen-sink realism, like the Shelagh Delaney plays that were filmed around this time. (And where have they gone? Why don't we ever see "A Taste of Honey" or "The Leather Boys" anymore?) Heather Sears is good but I have to admit, to my embarrassment, I found it hard to shake her excellent performance in the tile role of "The Story of Esther Costello" from my mind. Her being a bright young woman taken with Stockwell, therefore, startled me throughout. That is my own failing and surely not hers.
This is a superb movie. All of it is good. But for me, the scenes involving Hiller are the most compelling. Howard, too, is superb. And Stockwell as Paul. The family story is heart-wrenching.
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