Guinea Pig, The (1948, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Miles)

The Guinea Pig

The Guinea Pig was inspired by the Fleming Committee, which in 1944 appointed by the President of the Board of Education, recommended that public school education should be made accessible to children, irrespective of wealth or position. Warren Chetham Strode’s successful play examined the possible results of this barrier-breaking proposition and, in 1948, the Boulting Brothers impressively filmed the play, working from a screen adaptation by Bernard Miles, Strode himself and Roy Boulting.

The central role of the guinea pig is brilliantly taken by Richard Attenborough (then 25) as the 15-year-old son of a Walthamstow tobacconist sent as a pupil to Saintbury Public School as an educational experiment. An uncouth lad with carefree table manners, rough (for the time) language and a highly critical attitude to the school and its traditions, his approach brings him into conflict with his fellow pupils, who bully him.

Attenborough’s use of the then taboo word arse to describe where he was kicked undoubtedly added to the film’s popular success. He runs foul of his housemaster (Cecil Trouncer) who cannot bring himself to like or trust this new breed of public schoolboy even after Attenborough’s good sportsmanship and willingness to make his way wins over the other pupils. Only sympathetic house tutor Robert Flemyng and his daughter Sheila Sim finally enable Attenborough to find his own salvation.

UK / 1948

Director: Roy Boulting

Writers: Bernard Miles, Warren Chetham Strode, Roy Boulting. From the play by Warren Chetham Strode.

Cast: Richard Attenborough, Sheila Sim, Bernard Miles, Cecil Trouncer, Robert Flemyng, Edith Sharpe, Joan Hickson, Timothy Bateson.

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