A remarkable synthesis of proto-feminist ideals and visionary aesthetics, Maurice Elvey’s Hindle Wakes, adapted from Stanley Houghton’s controversial play of the same name, begins with a loaded shot of two male factory workers shoveling coal into two small round-like ovens. Even without the names “Alice” and “Sally” scrawled in chalk above the fiery holes, the implication of this one shot is already extraordinarily clear: that women are the architects of life, a dominant view echoed in just about every scene in the film, including the ensuing image of factory chimneys pumping smoke into the morning air like excited phalluses. Elvey makes poetry out of the mundane, using images of clocks and machines and paralleling views of his characters’ behaviors and routines to set up the vice-like class inequity of the time. Nearly everyone wants a reprieve from this banal, almost sinister clockwork, and as such its no surprise that when Franny Hawthorne (Estelle Brody) and her friend Marcy Hollins (Peggy Carlisle) go to Blackpool—Britain’s version of Coney Island—for vacation, Hindle Wakes transforms itself into an orgiastic celebration of freedom. Elvey’s images of rising and falling carnival rides, fox-trotting bodies, and sumptuous night lights are all implications for sex, their metaphoric energy matched only by their sumptuous visual sweep. In Blackpool, the collective effort of the people doesn’t empower the state but the individual, a feeling of independence Franny looks to enable back home when she learns that her father, Chris (Humberston Wright), and his boss and childhood friend, factory owner Nathaniel Jeffcoate (Norman McKinnel), have learned of her affair with Nathaniel’s son Allan (John Stuart). Social customs rule that Franny and Allan do one thing but Franny does something else entirely, a decision she makes not only for herself but the oppressed women of her time. Though the film’s Victorian milieu may not be ready for her, Franny nonetheless remains true to her own sense of freedom, and as the opening spectacle of sexual codes repeats itself and night descends on the Lancashire mill town of the film, this fierce woman warrior charges straight into the 21st century.
- Maurice Elvey
- Victor Saville
- Estelle Brody, John Stuart, Norman McKinnel, Marie Ault, Humberston Wright, Gladys Jennings, Irene Rooke, Peggy Carlisle, Arthur Chesney, Alfred Goddard, Cyril McLaglen, Graham Soutten
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