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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Classic Film Review: Hobson's Choice (1954)

Hobson's Choice stars Charles Laughton as Henry Hobson, a drunkard bootmaker in nineteenth-century Salford with three daughters. The eldest, Maggie (Brenda de Banzie), is the shrewdest, an effective salesperson who can make a customer buy boots when he didn't come in for them. Her sisters, Alice (Daphne Anderson) and Vicky (Prunella Scales), are less useful and want to be married but Henry doesn't want to lose his free workers. He offends Maggie by saying that she couldn't find a husband anyway at her age so she sets her sights on his best bootmaker, Willie Mossop (John Mills), and aims to teach her father a lesson.

This is an hilarious film, thanks in part to the brilliant source material but also the central three performances which are downright fantastic. My first Charles Laughton experience in They Knew What They Wanted (1940, review here) wasn't a pleasant one but this role was seemingly him at his best. The domineering drunkard who regales his pub companions with stories of his dictatorship at home is perfectly suited to Laughton's talents and he's nothing short of hilarious when he's 'following the moon' from puddle to puddle whilst in a drunken haze. Also brilliant is John Mills as Willie Mossop, the character who undergoes the biggest change throughout the film. The scenes between Willie and Maggie when she tells him they're engaged and coaxes him into marriage without him having a say in it are brilliant. However, unquestionably, the star of Hobson's Choice is Brenda de Banzie. Though little known, she outshines both Laughton and Mills, stealing almost every scene she's in.

There are too many funny moments in this to mention but there are also moments of tenderness. Personally, my favourite scene was the day after their marriage when Willie and Maggie are preparing for the day in their new shop. Willie's eyes have been opened by the wedding night and he shows his first true affection towards Maggie in a surprisingly sweet moment. Then it's back to work.

Ultimately, Hobson's Choice is about backbone - both when to grow one and when to let it crumble. The story might have been familiar to me (I saw a stage adaptation of it last year) but the excellent performances made it worth watching. I laughed out loud many times and I'm sure a rewatch would have the same effect - this is one film that I doubt will get old.

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