If you haven’t heard of this film I would not blame you. It’s one of the unusual films to have been added to the 1001 films list as part of an update despite coming out decades before the first edition of the book was released. I can only assume that it’s place has come out of a recent re-evaluation or, more likely, to cover a sub-genre that didn’t have an entry: the British wartime melodrama.
As I have previously written about for films like Written on the Wind and All That Heaven Allows I am a big fan of a good melodrama. With The Man In Grey we have an example of the Gainsborough melodrama, a British-made melodrama in period settings. Sounds like an incredibly niche area, but so are Hammer Horrors and they got their entry on the list with Dracula.
Now, from the way I’ve started off this blog post, it sounds like this film isn’t on the list by it’s own merits – rather it’s one of those entries there to extend the coverage. Not so. I loved this film and found it to be the perfect accompaniment to a grey Sunday afternoon in October.
It’s interesting to note that The Man in Grey is considered a part of the long-running tradition of ‘women’s films’: films where female stars and problems faced by women take centre stage. The Man in Grey certainly fits this mould with Phyllis Calvert and Margaret Lockwood taking the centre stage as two old school friends in Regency-era England.
The book says that the story is pretty standard fare. It’s essentially the tragic story of two friends who make bad choices when it comes to marriage and their actions when it comes to be with the men they truly love. Save to say, no one really makes it out of the film alive -the final scene features a woman being beaten to death by a walking stick and I still get a little bit breathless thinking about the barbarity in that.
The acting form all four leads is exemplary and it’s this that really takes this film from being a throwaway watch on a Sunday afternoon to a film I’m happy to have in the DVD library. The only exception to this would be the child actor who, for no real reason, spends the whole movie in blackface. I’m guessing that he’s meant to be playing a servant boy from the Indian subcontinent… but couldn’t they have just found an actor of the right skin colour?
Despite being a little dated in places (including single uses of every racial epithet you can think of when referring to black people) this film still really holds up to this day. I didn’t actually expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Proves you never can tell with this list.