20 December 2014 | robert-temple-1
A charming tale of Soho in London, as it was in the fifties
This film was made in a studio, as it would have been impossible to shoot it in the real Soho due to the necessity to dig up a whole street, which is the basis for the story. But the greatest attention to authenticity has resulted in accurate shop fronts, signs, polyglot names (the baker is Czech, called Svoboda, which means 'freedom' for those unversed in Czech), products (such as pub ads for Mackeson stout and Cinzano apertitif, which were such firm favourites of that time), and period atmosphere which was then, of course, not 'period' but contemporary. This film records a time when people of all nations speaking many languages lived in Soho and could lift up their sash windows and shout at one another either in other windows or down in the street. In other words, it portrays the genuine street life which existed before television caused everyone to grow taproots which affixed their bottoms firmly to their chairs and sofas (or as the American say, couches). The lead female role is played by the glamorous young actress Belinda Lee, who made 33 films and then met a tragic end in a car crash in America when she was only 25 years old. This long-forgotten film has been rediscovered for DVD release. The film is based upon a novel by Emeric Pressburger, who also produced the film. The director was Julian Amyes, whose career was mostly spent directing for British television. The story is set in a fictional street called St. Anthony's Lane. One day, a team of road workers arrives to dig up the entire street, which will take weeks. One of the road diggers is a ladies' man played by John Gregson. He is very convincing and good for the part. Naturally he and Belinda Lee fall for each other, but not until after a great deal of hesitation and difficulty. At the beginning of the film, Gregson heartlessly dismisses a young girl who has chased him since his last job in another neighbourhood, professing her love for him. She is played by a young Billie Whitelaw, later to become so famous with British audiences, long after Gregson had been forgotten by them. Cyril Cusack plays the whimsical local postman who is also an officer in the Salvation Army. He goes round trying to calm everybody down and offers gentle advice on every conceivable subject. Can Gregson overcome his 'love 'em and leave 'em' attitudes and realize what a prize Belinda Lee is? Or will he break her heart too? Will she and her Italian immigrant family realize their dream of getting visas to emigrate on to Canada? Will Belinda go or stay? The film is a romantic tale and an affectionate portrait of a neighbourhood, and has much to offer concerning its genuine period insight into those now-vanished times.