Sunday, September 1, 2019

The World War II Blogathon: Millions Like Us

September 1 marks the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, so Maddy over at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Jay over at Cinema Essentials started the World War II Blogathon. My entry for the blogathon is an interesting movie made in Britain at the height of the war, and set on the British home front: Millions Like Us.

The movie starts off with a montage of scenes set in the summer of 1939, so just before Germany invades Poland, setting off the European theatre of World War II. The main focus is on the Crowson family, led by dad (Moore Marriott) with his adult daughters Celia (Patricia Roc) and Phyllis (Joy Shelton) and a housekeeper. It's a happy if not particularly healthy existence which is about to be blown up by the start of the war.

Eventually, Britain's men go off to fight, leaving a shortage of workers in pretty much every industry. Dad becomes a member of the Home Guard, the rough equivalent of the civil defense that you see James Cagney as a member of in the short You, John Jones. As for the women, the government has a plan for them.

Since the government needs labor in the defense industry, they set up a labor board to more or less draft unmarried women into service on the home front. (You may recall from the Powell/Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale how the Sheila Sim character is part of the Women's Land Army, a similar body that sent women to work in agriculture to replace the men who had gone into war.) Phyllis is able to get a position in one of the women's auxiliary forces, but Celia is sent to a factory in the middle of nowhere, where the almost all-woman workforce (there are a few male managers) live in dorms crammed two to a room. Among the other women with Celia are the down-to-earth Gwen (Megs Jenkins) and Jennifer (Anne Crawford). She clearly came from a much higher social class and really doesn't want to be here at the factory.

Frankly, none of them would be there given the chance, but there's the war on, so everybody tries to make the best of it. The manager, Mr. Forbes (Eric Portman) apparently knew Jennifer before, and he knew that deep down inside, she can do the work if she puts her mind to it. Celia meets RAF flyer Fred Blake (Gordon Jackson) when a group of men from the nearby air base visit the factory to see the vital material the women are making for their planes. Eventually Celia and Fred start a relationship that's not going to be easy.

There's a lot to like about Millions Like Us, especially as an American looking at how the British really saw themselves during the war (the movie was released in 1943). It's much different from the US since they were a relatively tiny island and actually under attack from the Nazis in a way that America never really was. There are several tropes, notably the air-raid, as well as the dance between the workers and the soldiers. But it's a really nice slice of life movie.

Millions Like Us got a DVD release courtesy of Reel Vault.


Caftan Woman said...

A perfect choice for this blogathon. I watched this film for the first time recently. I loved the humour and the heart. I loved the cameos from Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne. And I started singing along to My Old Man Said Follow the Van in the scene with the entertainment. Millions Like Us was very easy to get wrapped up in, from Leslie Howard's narration to the heartbreak and resolve.

Silver Screenings said...

This would be truly worth watching, especially since it has the British perspective from the middle of the war. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on it.

Cinema Essentials said...

I think this is one of the best films made about the war on the home front, and it was made during the war so the makers really knew what they were talking about. Plus, I always have time for writer/director/producers Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat and I think this is the only film they actually directed together. Thanks for bringing it to the blogathon and for sharing your thoughts.