- Hindle Wakes
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After an initial period of innovation that ended around World War I, the silent era of British cinema produced only a handful of memorable films and even fewer filmmakers who left a lasting mark on the cinematic landscape. In the teens and 1920s, while Hollywood was refining and perfecting the art of narrative, German filmmakers were forever changing the possibilities of expressive cinematography, and Soviet filmmaker-theorists were wringing new political significance out of editing, little emerged from the British cinema beyond the early works of Alfred Hitchcock. Part of this was the fault of the British government's quota law of 1927, which required British movie theaters to play a certain number of "British-made films" and which, instead of encouraging quality output, resulted in a glut of "quota quickies" that invariably played as second features behind American films, thus calcifying the notion of English cinema's second-class status in the overwhelming shadow of Hollywood.
Yet, despite its less-then-stellar reputation, the British silent cinema did contribute some gems that are slowly being unearthed and presented on home video, some for the first time. Chief among these is Maurice Elvey's Hindle Wakes, recently released on DVD by Milestone Film and Video.
Hindle Wakes, which has been filmed five times from 1918 to 1976, is based on the 1912 four-act play by Stanley Houghton, which caused such a sensation in England that it was [End Page 139] banned from being produced at Oxford. The 1927 film tells the story of Fanny Hawthorn (Estelle Brody), a young woman from the small Lancashire town of Hindle Vale, who works, like all the young women in town, in the local cotton mill. Her father (Humberston Wright) is the mill foreman, although at one time he could have been co-owner with his longtime friend Nathaniel Jeffcoat (Norman McKinnel), now the town's richest man, but shied away from the investment opportunity. Because of the missed opportunity, the Hawthorn family is working class, something Fanny's mother (Marie Ault) has never forgotten.
During "Wakes" week, the bank holiday celebrations when all businesses shut down, Fanny and her best friend Mary Hollins (Peggy Carlisle) head off for several days of fun at Blackpool, the English equivalent of Coney Island. There, Fanny meets up with Allan Jeffcoat (John Stuart), the pampered son of the mill owner. They leave Blackpool and spend the remaining days together at Llandudno, another resort in Wales. To cover up this impropriety, Fanny concocts a clever scheme in which she asks Mary to mail a postcard for her several days later, thus making it appear to her parents that she has remained with her friend at Blackpool. In an unfortunate, if somewhat hackneyed, turn of events, Mary accidentally drowns and Fanny's ruse is exposed.
Once it is discovered that Fanny and Allan spent several nights together (the sexual nature of the situation is made abundantly clear through subtext), a scandal threatens to erupt, especially since Allan is already engaged to the daughter of Hindle's mayor. The Hawthorn and Jeffcoat families decide it is best for Allan and Fanny to marry; the social/moral severity of the situation is epitomized by the fact that Mr. Jeffcoat and his son are both willing to sacrifice Allan's engagement and the clear economic and political rewards of uniting the town's most prominent families in order to "do the right thing."
Yet, throughout it all, no one brings Fanny into the discussions, much less asks her what she thinks or wants. She is expected to be a phantom presence in her own life, standing quietly by while others make decisions for her—something she resolutely refuses to do. She directly and unequivocally rejects the decision that has been made for her, thus going against one of the cornerstones of the patriarchal society in which she lives and works. Fanny's practical sensibilities—she doesn't reject marriage to Allan out of derision for...