Made in Britain - Hobson's Choice

Charles Laughton stars as Lancashire shoemaker Henry Hobson, the owner of a boot shop in late Victorian northern England with a fondness for drink. When the eldest of his three daughters, the haughty and independent Maggie (Brenda De Banzie), decides to forge her own path, romantically and professionally, with none other than Henry’s prized bootsmith Will (John Mills), father and daughter find themselves head-to-head in a fiery match of wills.

First released in UK cinemas back in 1954, this working class comedy from award-winning director David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Great Expectations amongst many others) is based on the play of the same name by Harold Brighouse. The screenplay was penned by Lean with assistance by playwright Wynyard Browne and frequent production collaborator Norman Spencer. Brighouse's play has been adapted for both the small and silver screens several times over the years, but Lean's version is not only the best-known but also the best-received version. It picked up the Best British Film award at the 1954 BAFTAs and has developed classic status over the years, helped in no small part by the performances from its prolific headline actors Charles Laughton (Mutiny on the Bounty and director of The Night of the Hunter) and Lean regular John Mills (Ice Cold in Alex, Great Expectations, Ryan's Daughter).

Hobson's Choice will return to UK cinemas in 2012 for one day only on Tuesday 26 June. Lean's film has been selected as the fourth title in Studiocanal's Made in Britain film season which looks to celebrate British film in the summer period between the Queen's Jubilee and the 2012 Olympic games. Each film will be screened digitally using the latest restoration which, in the case of Hobson's Choice, is the 2008 BFI National Archive restoration featured on the Studiocanal UK DVD and Criterion Collection USA DVD releases.

We don’t have a review for Hobson’s Choice here at the Digital Fix, but Anthony has taken a look at the existing disc (available individually or as part of the ten-disc David Lean Collection) and offers the following words: “This is Laughton’s picture - as most films starring the great actor had a tendency to be. That pomp and arrogance so central to his portrayals of Henry VIII and Dr. Moreau is in full effect once more for Henry Hobson, a character who demands to be larger than life. Such enormity - rendered comical by Malcolm Arnold’s recurring musical theme - allows his co-stars to put in subtler performances, whether it be Mills’ ‘natural born fool’ Willie Mossop or a very young Prunella Scales as the youngest of the Hobson daughters. Indeed, it’s the clash of styles which prompts much of the humour - all those cool heads opposite Hobson’s increasingly sozzled one.”

“The disc looks great too. The David Lean Foundation funded restorations of ten of the director’s features, Hobson’s Choice among them. These really were sterling efforts and remain just as impressive four years down the line. After all, if it’s good enough for the Criterion Collection then it’s good enough for us.”

You can find a full listing of screening locations for the Made in Britain film season on the Ico website. Studiocanal also have a Made in Britain Facebook page for you to check out. All TDF content on the season - including our poster competition - can be found using our handy Made in Britain tag page.

Rounding out this introduction to the film is a short clip below, a gallery of stills at the bottom of the page and just before those we have a recent Q&A with actress Prunella Scales who made an early screen appearance as one of Hobson's daughters in the film.

HOBSON'S CHOICE – Prunella Scales Q&A

By Joe Utichi – – May 2012

What are your memories of getting the part?

Of course HOBSON'S CHOICE was a wonderful play beforehand. I'm not sure how it came to me, because I grew up in Yorkshire, myself, so I had to learn the Lancashire accent, which is slightly different. I was very lately out of drama school, but I'd got an agent; I had a rather flashy part in the end-of-term show and got an agent off the back of it. They sent me along to see David Lean – and I'd read the play very carefully before – and he was wonderful. They gave me a costume and put me in front of a camera, and he got behind the camera and asked me questions in character. He said, “What's your name?” And I said, “Vicky, Vicky Hobson”, “Where do you live?”, “Manchester”, “Have you got a boyfriend?” And I sort of giggled and said, “Yes!” “What's his name?”, “Freddie. Freddie Beenstock.” He just knew how to make me comfortable. And that's how I got it. I can't remember if it was the first or second film I'd done, but there we were.

Of course the film starred Charles Laughton and John Mills, who were both big stars. What was it like to work with them?

Charles Laughton used to call me Scales! “Good old Scales,” he'd say! The story about it really is that originally it was going to be Robert Donat playing Willy Mossop, and my mother had been at the Liverpool Rep with him and she'd said he was absolutely immortal in the part. We had a week's rehearsal with him. When I met him he said, “Any relation to Catherine Scales?” I said, “Yes, I'm her daughter,” and he said, “Oh, that makes me feel very old!” We worked for a week on the set, rehearsing, but he had an asthma attack and eventually they wouldn't insure him. Apparently he never got over the disappointment; I was told he never had problems on an actual shoot. He was a wonderful, wonderful actor. But they got John Mills back from holiday and he learnt the Lancashire accent and had a great success in it.

Having grown up in the world of acting, was it intimidating working with such big names so early on in your career?

It was, but David Lean was wonderfully kind and very positive. They were all very encouraging. Daphne Anderson became a very dear friend. But it was a very lucky film to have so early on in one's working life.

Did you get a sense it was going to be such a hit?

I don't think so. It was one of my earliest jobs, anyway, but I don't think you can ever tell. One doesn't think about that. Of course, when you come to the end of a job all you're worried about is where the next job's coming from so that you can pay the rent. In fact, in those days I think I was still living in digs, and after that I shared a flat with three other girls until I got married. That early on your only concerns are wondering where the next job's coming from, and when it comes to learn your lines and do as much background work as possible. I was trained at the Old Vic Theatre School and we were very carefully trained about that. Shortly after HOBSON'S CHOICE I was in a play in the West End that went to the States, THE MATCHMAKER, and had a run on broadway. I had a wonderful workshop with the actress Uta Hagen and she was absolutely crucial. There are certain times in your life where you really feel like you learn something, and that was one.

How does it feel that it's still resonating with audiences?

I could never have imagined it! It's lovely that it is still so fondly remembered. I'm dying to see it again; I don't think I've got a copy of it. Though it's very alarm seeing one's performances even 20 or 30 years afterwards, and this was more than 50 years ago! One may think one's own performance was terrible!

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