As part of BBC Radio 3's Sound of Cinema, a week of essays written and presented by historian and columnist Simon Heffer on classic British taboo-breaking films which depicted a society changed profoundly by war. The cinema of the 30s was nakedly and unashamedly escapist in a way that the cinema of the late 40s and early 50s - in an age of lost innocence and social upheaval - simply couldn't be. This was a period when British cinema was forced to embrace change and reflect reality.
In Heffer on British Film, Simon Heffer puts the case for five films from the decade after the war which show British cinema dealing with gritty social issues and dramatic high standards before the 60s were underway - including It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), Mandy (1953), Yield to the Night (1956), The Browning Version (1951) and the subject of today's essay - The Long Memory (1952).
The Long Memory was Robert Hamer's follow-up to the success of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), one of the driest black Ealing comedies ever made. Hamer wrote the script for this thriller with Frank Harvey, adapting a novel by Howard Clewes. It portrays Britain as depressed, worn out by war, and full of the poor, dispossessed, transient, and criminal. It tells the story of Phillip Davidson (John Mills) fresh out of prison after serving twelve years for a murder he didn't commit and obsessed with revenge.
An early flashback provides us with the details: a smuggling job goes sour, and Davidson is blamed for the death of a man who, in fact, is not dead. His girlfriend, Fay (Elizabeth Sellars), played a significant part in securing that conviction. She was coerced by her father to lie about the identity of the man who was burned in the boat fire that followed the altercation. And one of the film's neat little twists, she subsequently goes on to marry the very policeman superintendent originally in charge of Davidson's case. Davidson makes his home in a remote shack on the Kent Marshes, and grimly sets about the task of seeking out his former tormentors. The action alternates between his search and the slow unravelling of the idyllic domesticity of the policeman's life. Davidson gets involved with local waitress Ilse, played by Norwegian actress Eva Bergh, a refugee her from being raped one night and a touching relationship develops between them, forcing Davidson to re-evaluate his need for revenge.
Producer: Mohini Patel.