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Author: Tom Ryall

This is a comprehensive critical study of Anthony Asquith. The author sets the director's work in the context of British cinema from the silent period to the 1960s, and examines the artistic and cultural influences within which his films can be understood. Asquith's silent films were compared favourably to those of his eminent contemporary Alfred Hitchcock, but his career faltered during the 1930s. However, the success of Pygmalion (1938) and French Without Tears (1939), based on plays by George Bernard Shaw and Terence Rattigan respectively, together with his significant contributions to wartime British cinema, re-established him as one of Britain's leading film makers. Asquith's post-war career includes several pictures in collaboration with Rattigan, and the definitive adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1951), but his versatility is demonstrated effectively in a number of modest genre films including The Woman in Question (1950), The Young Lovers (1954) and Orders to Kill (1958).

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Tom Ryall

moments of impending catastrophe and a little counterintrigue thrown in for suspense. Unquestionably these two scenes, entirely absent from the play, and indeed unachievable on stage, were the highlights of the film; whereas the Shavian dialogue, however severely cut, turned out a little flat in certain moments.54 French Without Tears (1939) French Without Tears, Asquith’s next film, was his first collaboration with the two individuals – playwright Terence Rattigan and producer/ writer Anatole de Grunwald – who were to figure prominently in his subsequent career. The

in Anthony Asquith
Tom Ryall

4 Wartime British cinema Asquith, with a now established reputation as one of Britain’s leading film-makers, was ideally placed to play a key role in the specific demands placed upon the British cinema in the wartime period. Yet, neither Pygmalion nor French Without Tears, the films which had helped to consolidate his standing, prefigured the active engagement with wartime subject matter which Asquith was to demonstrate during the period of conflict. Indeed, most of his wartime films – six out of the eight features – have wartime subject matter and can be seen

in Anthony Asquith
Tom Ryall

Grunwald,4 and a film based on the life of Samuel Pepys planned with Teddy Baird.5 Though best known for his dramatic adaptations from classic drama – Shaw, Wilde, Rattigan – Asquith’s work is extremely diverse in terms of subject matter, style, tone, and genre. It ranges from the avant-garde expressionism of his silent films to the highly conventionally and MUP_Ryall_08_Chap 8 159 7/26/05, 10:09 AM 160 anthony asquith functionally directed star vehicles of his final years, from the light romantic escapades of French Without Tears to the moral seriousness of Orders

in Anthony Asquith
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Tom Ryall

and Underground – had MUP_Ryall_01_Chap 1 8 7/26/05, 10:04 AM introduction 9 been based on his own original scenarios but his 1930s films were mainly adaptations of novels. Ironically, in the light of his assertion, the two films which rehabilitated his career towards the end of the decade were adaptations of theatrical works by major writers both of whom were closely involved in the process of adapting their own work for the screen. Yet Pygmalion (1938) and French Without Tears (1939), based on plays by George Bernard Shaw and Terence Rattigan respectively

in Anthony Asquith
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Where to, now?
Brian Mcfarlane

Earnest, 1952) and, especially, Terence Rattigan (from French Without Tears, 1939, through such popular successes as The Way to the Stars, 1945, The Winslow Boy, 1948, and The Browning Version, 1951). Like Reed, he floundered somewhat after the mid1950s, and he ended his career in all-star portmanteau productions like The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), which seemed a long way from the perceptive chamber pieces of the 1940

in Lance Comfort
Brian McFarlane

this but was no guarantee of box-office success. She had had a long theatrical career but ‘still loathed making films’, Brownlow records, ‘yet she knew she would have to play the part when Noël Coward read it to her in October 1944’. 13 As for the role of Alec, the first choice was Roger Livesey, but Anthony Havelock-Allan had been impressed by an actor he’d seen on stage in Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears and brought him to Lean’s attention. ‘Then I saw him in a film, then I asked David to see him. David saw him, David thought he

in The never-ending Brief Encounter
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Hatter’s Castle
Brian Mcfarlane

, presumably, money was lavished, and exhibitors were alerted to another Paramount-British success along the lines of such previous films from the same company as French Without Tears (1939) and Quiet Wedding (1940). It had been sold as an ambitious production with distinguished credentials, with particular emphasis on its spectacular scenes and on the elaborate camera work brought to bear on these. Its stars were to be more

in Lance Comfort
Separate Tables, separate entities?
Dominic Shellard

track record as a screenwriter, sometimes but not always adapting his own plays, should not be forgotten. In 1939 we have French Without Tears , then Quiet Wedding (1940), The Day Will Dawn (1942), Uncensored (1942), English Without Tears (1944), Journey Together (1945), The Way to the Stars (1945), While the Sun Shines (1947), Brighton Rock (1947, from Greene’s novel), Bond Street

in British cinema of the 1950s
Richard Farmer

pairing The Stars Look Down with French without Tears (1940) – ‘It’s saucy, it’s naughty, it’s Showmanship in wartime 171 gay’ – and presenting it alongside the cinema organ’s ‘King of Swing’ John Madin, failed to boost takings.33 Yet the good business that The Stars Look Down did nationally34 suggests that specific localities were, as Sue Harper has observed, individually defined and differentiated ‘taste communities’, cultural micro-climates in which ingrained opposition to a particular film might act as an effective bulwark against the siren song of the

in Cinemas and cinemagoing in wartime Britain, 1939–45