24 February 2005 | Igenlode Wordsmith
Shades of Eliza Doolittle!
I saw this film as part of a Henry Edwards retrospective, but it was Florence Turner who was the sensation here. Edwards played most of the film on one level, as a cheery East End 'wide boy' with somewhat unconvincing verve, but Turner really brought her character to life. She is beautiful even as the shabby waif of the beginning of the film and grows into an elegant and poised maturity, and her facial expressions range from hilarious in their crudity to subtle shades of disbelief. You really can see everything the character is thinking.
In this day and age it's hard to disassociate 'Vicky' in her Cockney clothes from the filmed versions of Liza Doolittle, but since the film is set in contemporary (and now long since vanished) London, this only goes to show that the costuming, at least, of 'Pygmalion' and 'My Fair Lady' must have been accurate! To a modern eye the waist less fashions of 1916 high society are not very becoming, but this only helps to point up the moral that 'East' is good and 'West', for all its riches, will prove to have shortcomings of its own.
There is, of course, a certain 'Pygmalion' element to the plot. But Victoria is no fake but an acknowledged 'hop-field heiress', and her preceptor is no eccentric professor but a lady who is kind to her and with whom she forms a genuine bond of affection.
There is a good deal of comedy in the film, largely derived from the collision of the two worlds -- Bert's reaction to being offered a second cup of tea in the ladies' boudoir is priceless, as is Vicky's generous donation of a spare potato off her own plate to her neighbour at table. Her admonitions to Bert on the subject of chicken-stealing also roused general laughter in the audience! There is an in-joke when Bert takes Vicky to see the latest film... starring Henry Edwards.
This is not a masterpiece, and was somewhat handicapped in my view by Edwards' mugging -- as an experienced stage actor, he should have known better. The inter titles are, unsurprisingly, of the old-fashioned 'predictive' kind, explaining what will take place in the next scene rather than simply giving the dialogue, e.g. "The richest heiress in London borrows a 'tanner'" followed by a silent scene of Vicky doing just that on a street-corner. However, it was considerably more enjoyable as a drama in its own right than the only other film of this era I've seen, and Florence Turner is unmissable as the heroine -- it's not surprising that the title cards all give credit to "Florence Turner in East is East" at the bottom of every screen. It's also fascinating as a social document in its own right, from Bert's fishy emporium (with its own tie-in line of branded condiments!) to the glimpse of a 'London, South Eastern and Chatham' railway station of the pre-Grouping era, and the lost landscape of the hop-pickers.
This is more than a curiosity; it's worth seeing in its own right.