There has been a bit of an unofficial Sir John Mills Season going on without me noticing. This is the third film containing him in not many weeks (see This Happy Breed and Ice Cold in Alex for more of his antics). No wonder he was compared to a chameleon by many of his actorly chums due to his independently swiveling eyes. Er, not really. Just from the three roles here, you can see his range. Every character is very different and at times it's hard to believe they were all played by the same man. A true master of his craft. The complete polar opposite of Mary's dad.
In Hobson's Choice he plays Willie Mossop, a boot-hand in Henry Hobson's (Charles Laughton) boot emporium. Hobson's three daughters are all of a marrying age (he believes Maggie is well past it at the ancient age of 30), but Hobson won't pay the settlement required by their husbands-to-be. When Hobson (a loveable comedy alcoholic, as they all were in the films of this period) gets completely tanked and falls into a cellar, Maggie (Brenda De Banzie) sees an opportunity for some devious crafty wiliness.
For a film that is nearly sixty years old, Maggie is a surprisingly strong female lead. Hobson obviously has his ideas about a woman's place but Maggie shows her true potential as a business woman. She is strong-minded, knows how to get what she wants and doesn't stand for any messing. Strange that one of the only pictures I can find is of her in the kitchen.
When we first meet Willie, peeking his head through the cellar trapdoor (shouting 'Swallow your soul!' - sorry, wrong film), he lacks self-esteem and clearly knows his place in the grand scheme of things. By the end of the film, Maggie transforms him into a hard-nosed, go-getting business lad. Cleverly, the script still allows you to see through the veneer of confidence to the character we know. A quality performance.
Hobson's Choice is a gentle comedy with some laugh out loud moments (in particular, the comment Willie makes the morning after his wedding night). As with most older films, the pace is slower, but this is used to great effect. In the build up to the aforementioned scene, Willie spends an eternity getting ready to go to bed, tending the fire, folding his clothes etc. This makes his comment even funnier. A classic film and one that I would recommend as a 'My First Black and White Film' experience. (Plus you get appearances from British sit-com icons John Laurie and Prunella Scales - what more do you want?)
If you like this you could also try:
This Happy Breed, Ice Cold in Alex, Sailor Beware.