CEA Film Report called absorbing British period melodrama Esther Waters “a well-made picture” and went on to report “it tells a poignant story”. That story was skilfully adapted from Irish playwright George Moore’s celebrated novel and cast Kathleen Ryan in the title role of a young woman who goes to work as a kitchen maid in a 19th century country house.
Strictly brought up, Ryan is horrified to find that the master of the house trains racehorses and that every member of the household indulges in betting. Among them are young groom Dirk Bogarde, who seduces her. She falls pregnant and although he loves her he refuses to marry her until he has raised enough money by gambling. But, before she can tell him of her condition, Bogarde runs off with Lalage Lewis. Ryan returns to London, gives birth to her child in a workhouse infirmary and, after a period of appalling hardship, is helped by a policeman and his wife who look after her son while she goes back into service.
Eventually she again meets Bogarde – who is now a prosperous bookmaker – and they marry and keep a pub while Bogarde also continues his bookmaking business. Eventually his health fails and he stakes everything on a race in order to win enough money to go to Egypt as his doctor advises. But he dies while the race is still on, leaving Ryan to return to live in the house where they met and work again for kindly Julian d’Albie…
UK / 1947
Director: Ian Dalrymple, Peter Proud
Writers: Michael Gordon, William Rose, Gerard Tyrrell, from George Moore’s novel
Cast: Kathleen Ryan, Dirk Bogarde, Cyril Cusack, Ivor Barnard, Fay Compton, Mary Clare, Julian d’Albie, Morland Graham, Alex Parker