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This Happy Breed (1944, Robert Newton, John Mills)



Taken from Noel Coward’s popular and charming stage play of the same name, This Happy Breed looks at the way in which a working class family adapts to life after World War I as they slowly move up the class ladder.

Celia Johnson stars as dowdy housewife Ethel Gibbons, married to Frank (Robert Newton), who has just returned from the war. Ethel had been sharing a house with her daughter Queenie (Kay Walsh, director Lean’s wife), son Reg (John Blythe), crotchety mother Mrs Flint (Amy Veness) and spinster sister-in-law Sylvia (Allison Leggatt). Frank returns from the war to move them all into a bigger house in Clapham and the film traces the ups and downs of the family’s fortunes as the new peace allows them to reach for a greater standing in life.

Ethel’s mother complains constantly about the world around her and everyone who lives within a hundred mile radius. Sylvia is lonely and hurls herself into charity work – where she might meet a potential husband – and Ethel and Frank have to rediscover the stability in their relationship. Meanwhile, the children are growing up and away from their parents. Reg becomes a radical activist who throws himself into the stew of the General Strike, while Queenie starts work in beauty salon, while carrying on an affair with Billy (John Mills), son of next-door-neighbour Bob Mitchell (Stanley Holloway). However, all their worlds are thrown into terrible disarray when Reg decides to marry his sweetheart Phyllis (Betty Fleetwood) and invites Queenie and Billy to the wedding…

Although episodic, This Happy Breed is essentially a dynastic drama that unfolds to illuminate the aspirations of England’s lower classes, in part pointing towards an evolution of the class system that would break it almost entirely from the Victorian system that would be familiar to most of the film’s British audience.

production details
UK | 115 minutes | 1944

Director: David Lean
Writers: Ronald Neame, David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, based on the play by Noel Coward

Amy Veness as Mrs. Flint
Stanley Holloway as Bob Mitchell
John Mills as Billy Mitchell
Kay Walsh as Queenie Gibbons
Alison Leggatt as Aunt Sylvia
Robert Newton as Frank Gibbons
John Blythe as Reg Gibbons
Celia Johnson as Ethel Gibbons
Eileen Erskine as Vi
Guy Verney as Sam Leadbitter
Betty Fleetwood as Phyllis Blake
Merle Tottenham as Edie
Charles King as Himself (archive footage) (uncredited)
Bessie Love as Herself (archive footage) (uncredited)
Laurence Olivier as Narrator (uncredited)
Anita Page as Herself (archive footage) (uncredited)