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UK 1944
Directed by
Clive Brook
80 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

On Approval

This charming comedy of manners in the fashion of Wilde and Coward will please Anglophiles and lovers of spirited repartee. Based on a hit 1926 play by Frederick Lonsdale and set in Victorian London’s high society it relates how Maria Wislack (Beatrice Lillie) a wealthy 41 year old widow decides to take Richard (Roland Culver) a well-bred but impoverished suitor to her Scottish island for a month's trial "on approval" to see if they are compatible for marriage.  Accompanying them are their close friends, Helen (Googie Withers) a wealthy American heiress to a pickle empire and Richard’s equally indigent friend George, the 10th Duke of Bristol (Clive Brooks). As the month winds on the adventure gradually loses it bloom.

Originally filmed in 1930 (which I have not seen) the Clive Brook version re-situates the play from the Roaring Twenties to the late 19th century  It opens with a tongue-in-cheek newsreel montage narrated (by real life voice-over specialist E.V.H. Emmett) of wartime England and invites the viewer to travel back to more elegant times. From here we are introduced to the four principals and the co-habiting scenario which for its day was quite saucy (although in the best British manner the sleeping arrangements are not explored). The fun of the film is the barbed battle-of-the-sexes stoushing as Maria bullies the besotted Richard and fights with George, George returns the hostility and Helen progressively loses her sympathy for him.

The performances are so supple that it is a surprise to find the leads did not play the roles in the theatre productions. Brook is a marvel of self-centred arrogance, Lillie is disdainfully sharp-tongued, Culver puppy-dog devoted and Withers, then at the height of her unique beauty, irresistablyradiant.

Writer-director Brook in his only directorial effort does a surprisingly good job of giving the film its own filmic character, rather than simply leaving it as a filmed play. My only reservation is with the somewhat skewed ending which doesn’t really fit with what has gone before and was apparently Brook's invention. The women's fabulous Victorian wardrobe was by Cecil Beaton.




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