South Riding UK 1938

8.30 p.m. Monday August 1st
Free for members – preceded by a Special General Meeting at 7.30pm

Richardson, Best and Clements.

Richardson, Best and Clements.

This is a fine adaptation of Winifred Holtby’ s 1936 novel with a screenplay by Ian Dalrymple and directed by Victor Saville. This was

“A novel of Yorkshire life between the two wars.”

The author dedicated the book to her mother, an Alderman in the County Council. Here she wrote,

“I have laid my scene in the South East part of Yorkshire, because that is the district which I happen to know best: … [and] … when I came to consider local government, I began to see how it was in essence the first-line defence thrown up by the community against common enemies – poverty sickness, ignorance, mental derangement and social maladjustment.”

The film preserves much of the social consciousness of the novel, but one relationship takes centre stage. This is between the two stars of the film, Ralph Richardson as landowner Robert Carne and Edna Best as the modern headmistress Sarah Barton. The film even retains an extremely unconventional [for the period] dramatic scene between them. The drama concerning local government is especially filled out by Edmund Gwenn as a businessman cum councillor Alfred Huggins and John Clements as ‘socialist’ councillor Joe Astell. Both the latter parts are fairly conventional for the period.

The film was also produced by Victor Saville who was one of the outstanding talents in British film in the 1930s. It was filmed at and around the Denham Studio and features some excellent location sequences. Unfortunately, I do not think that there are any Yorkshire locations in the film, but you may spot some. The production is very well done, particularly the cinematography of Harry Stradling and the production designs of Lazarre Meerson. And there is an excellent score by Richard Addinsell.

This is a good example of a first class drama of the period.  Marcia Landy, in her study of British genres, notes that the film is one of the most successful examples of a ‘melodrama of conversion and initiation’.  There is more compromise in the film than in the novel but it remains a fine portrait of 1930s Yorkshire life. And on this year’s Yorkshire Day it is screening in its original format of 35mm black and white academy.

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