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Hindle Wakes

Posted by keith1942 on June 29, 2009


Produced by Gaumont British Picture Corporation, 1927
Directed by Maurice Elvey in conjunction with Victor Saville
Black and white with Intertitles and musical accompaniment.
Length 8,658 feet.
The film is set in the Lancashire cotton town of Hindle during the annual ‘wakes’ when the mills closed and the workers took their holidays, Stanley Houghton’s play caused some sensation when it was first staged in 1912, with its rather daring content and suggestion that women too might be able to regard sex as ‘a bit of fun’. Elvey rejoices in the Blackpool sequences with an exuberant, liberated camera and even allows his actors’ faces to remain in semi-darkness. This was the second of four film adaptations of the play and there is a bfi DVD that features a new music soundtrack by In The Nursery.

Teaching notes [includes plot information].

Taken from a famous early 20th century play, the film’s story revolves round a holiday affair between working class Fanny Hawthorn, (played by Estelle Brody) and boss’s son Allan Jeffcote (played by John Stuart). The film develops and expands the play with scenes in the Hindle Mill and at the holiday resort of Blackpool.
The film opens as the ‘knocker-up’ wakes the households in Cotton Street. [Edward Hollins is the man, often retired or disabled, who called at workers’ houses in the early morning and ‘knocked them up’, i.e. woke them by tapping on the window. Each worker would pay a small amount, perhaps a penny. The street is Burnley Road in the original play] Our focus is the Hawthorn family, which includes the father Chris, his wife and their daughter Fanny. Chris and Fanny both work in a local mill. The film then cuts to the Jeffcote mansion in Midas Avenue. Nathaniel Jeffcote is a prosperous mill-owner, one time friend and workmate of Chris, but now risen from the ranks. He also has a wife and a son, Allan. In Cotton Street Fanny is packing for the Wakes holiday. She is going to Blackpool with her friend Mary, daughter of Edward Hollins.
The Factory hooter, summoning the mill-hands to work, interrupts the morning activities.
We see Fanny at work in the mill with her friend Mary. We also see Allan Jeffcote, who works in the Mill Office and is frequently late to work. Allan is engaged to Beatrice Farrar, daughter of another wealthy mill owner. A trip she has to make with her father, Sir Timothy Farrar, upsets Allan’s plans for the coming week’s Wakes Holiday.
When the final hooter sounds to end the day’s work, Fanny and Mary, with other mill workers, join the excursion train to Blackpool for a week’s holiday. Allan joins a friend and they drive by car to the resort. Blackpool is a place of entertainment, pleasure, excitement and freedom from the usual constraints.
In this mêlée, Fanny and Mary meet Allan and his friend. They pair up. By evening Allan has persuaded Fanny to go away with him for an illicit week in the middle class resort of Llandudno. Fanny leaves a postcard with Mary to send to her parents so that they will think she is still in Blackpool. Allan wires his father for more money to pay for the trip. An indulgence that Nat tells Chris about. These longstanding friends are on first-name terms despite the class difference that now exists between them.
Unbeknown to Fanny, Mary is killed in an accident. Chris Hawthorn learns of Mary’s death and finds the unposted card in her luggage. He also hears that Fanny has not been in Blackpool for most of the week.
On the final Bank Holiday Monday at the end of the Wakes week, Allan and Fanny return separately to Hindle. [This is the point at which Houghton’s play opens, in the Hawthorn house]. At the Hawthorn home her suspicious parents interrogate Fanny. She resists their questioning, but shocked by the news of Mary’s death she lets slip that she spent the week in Llandudno with Allan.
Mrs Hawthorne forces her husband to go straightway to the Jeffcote house and confront Nat Jeffcote. Allan has not yet returned home. Nat, sharing the values held by Chris and his wife, decides that Allan must marry Fanny.
Allan on his return resists his father’s imposition. However, next day when he tells Beatrice she insists that he should do the honourable thing and marry Fanny. He therefore accepts his father’s decision, though his mother still wants to prevent the marriage.
That evening the Hawthorn family goes to the Jeffcote house to agree on the wedding. Fanny signals her independent mind by insisting on wearing her mill-hand shawl rather than her Sunday best. To the astonishment of both sets of parents and Allan she rejects the offer of marriage. She claims that, just like a man, she was entitled to her ‘little fancy’. Allan is thus able to restate his engagement to Beatrice.
Fanny faced with her mother’s anger leaves home, but continues to work at the Mill. The film ends as Fanny makes a date with a fellow mill-worker.

Hindle is a mill town, and Wakes Week is the traditional eight days of leisure and pleasure for the mill workers, (a week of factory closure plus the August bank holiday). Much of the story is taken up with the shocked reactions of the two families, and their attempts to ‘sort out’ the misdemeanour.
In 1912, when the play was first performed, or even in 1926, when the film was made, sexual relations between young people were controlled by a fairly strict moral code.
One of the enduring qualities of the play is Fanny herself. She is a modern miss and eighty years on her attitudes and behaviour stand up well. The class relations between the two families are much more traditional, as indeed is the Lancastrian dialect. The dialect is extensively used in the play, and much of the originally dialogue is also found in the Intertitles of the film.

Social and economic context The Film Industry
In the 1920s the British film industry went through a period of rapid change. The most significant factor was the increasing dominance of Hollywood as a player in the industry and as the maker of most of the films that audiences paid to see. Before World War I Britain had been both a pioneer in the new industry and an important commercial centre. By the 1920s Hollywood was emerging as the dominant centre in world cinema. This was due in great part to the Hollywood studios economic power, with a large domestic market and vertically integrated Production, Distribution and Exhibition. Post-war British film was only just moving over from shorter films to the increasingly standard feature film, 70 to 100 minutes in length. Exhibition was split among small circuits and a large number of independent cinemas. The distributors or renters were increasingly large operations, but those owned by the Hollywood Studios were among the most powerful players. The producers had failed to keep up with the increasingly expensive and sophisticated studio production of Hollywood. Hollywood films were usually noted for higher production values and bigger stars. They reinforced this power with systems like ‘block booking’, where an exhibitor had to book all of a studios films, in order to obtain the most popular titles. One complaint by British producers was that exhibitors were tied up with film programmes six months or even a year ahead.
During the 1920s there was a growing concentration among exhibitors, with a number of fairly large cinema circuits. And there were also moves to emulate the vertical integration of Hollywood. Gaumont-British, the producers of Hindle Wakes, were an example of this. Even so, something like 90% of British audiences paid to see Hollywood films. One tactic tried by failing British producers was to import Hollywood stars and directors.
The growth of larger British film combines did not appear to have much impact on the Hollywood dominance. In fact, British distributors and exhibitors made as much or more money on Hollywood titles anyway. Attempts to undermine or even restrict practices such as block booking failed. So the British companies turned to the Government. There were concerns about growing US economic dominance in a number of industries, motor cars, for example. However, equally influential on government thinking was the cultural influence of the cinema, especially in terms of Britain’s Empire. In 1927 legislation was passed requiring that Distributors and Exhibitors book quotas of British films. The quotas were set at 7.5% for Exhibitor and 5% for Distributors, rising to 20% by 1935. In fact, further legalisation was passed in the 1930s. However, commentators tend to agree that the imposition of quotas did not solve the problems of the film industry. In the 1930s Hollywood’s dominance continued. Many British films were low on cost and quality. In fact, there was a whole cycle of films, known as quota quickies, produced merely to satisfy the demands of the Act. Many were reputedly shown to empty theatres before the public screenings began.
However, Hindle Wakes was made in a period of relative optimism. In expectation of the benefits of protection capital was available for British Films. And firms like Gaumont-British seemed able to combat Hollywood through size and a more modern organisation.

The producers of Hindle Wakes
The film’s producers were AS Bromhead and Gaumont-British. The Bromhead brothers set themselves up in 1898 as the British agents for the French film producer Leon Gaumont. Gaumont was one of the pioneers of industrial production systems in the film industry. The Bromheads bought out the French interests in 1922, and the company was registered as Gaumont-British in 1927, with financial capitol from the city firm owned by the Ostrer brothers, owners of the Odeon cinema chain. Part of the investment in Gaumont-British paid for an expensive refurbishment of the company’s Shepherd Bush studio. The new company also included two film rental companies and a chain of 21 cinemas. Thus, as with other large UK film companies, Gaumont-British established a presence across the different sectors of the industry. [that is, they became vertically integrated].

Silent film
Natural colour film was not fully developed in the 1920s, and films were exhibited in 35mm black and white prints, many of them tinted, and Hindle Wakes was probably screened in this form. The aspect ratio (the screen’s ratio of width to height) of films in the 1920s was commonly 1.33:1. Silent films did not have a soundtrack but had some sort of musical accompaniment, which supported the narrative by helping to convey mood and atmosphere. Plot information, dialogue and comment were all displayed on Intertitles that appeared between shots.
Motorised projectors were common in the 1920s, but frames per second (fps) varied. In some screenings the fps changed at different points in the film for dramatic effect. This also happened when the audiences cried ‘slower’ so they could to read the Intertitles or when projectionist wanted, for example, to finish early. Hindle Wakes is listed at 8,658 feet in length. At 20 fps this would give a running time of about 115 minutes, but the film can and has been projected at a faster rate, up to 24 fps, with a running time reduced to 96 minutes.

MusicLive music generally accompanied a silent film. Not all screenings of a film necessarily had the same accompaniment – it might depend on the size of the venue and on how much the cinema owner was prepared to pay for musicians. Accompanying musicians ranged from a lone pianist or organist to a small ensemble. Most accompanists would have had a store of stock musical movements for the different types of dramatic scenes and their generic variations. By the 1920s prestige films often had specially composed scores to accompany them. For other films distributors would recommend suitable music, like popular songs available in sheet music.

For Hindle Wakes
Very rarely have original scores used with silent films survived, so there is no evidence of what kind of music accompanied Hindle Wakes at the time and different screenings would have enjoyed a variety of accompaniments. It was screened at the 1997 Giornate del Cinema Muto [the premier Festival for silent film] accompanied by a solo piano. A new score to accompany the film was commissioned by the BFI, composed and performed by In the Nursery, first at the Leeds International Festival and subsequently on the video.
In the Nursery are a small ensemble that specialise in the accompaniment of silent film. Their other work in this field includes the Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and the Soviet masterwork Man with a Movie Camera. The musicians wanted to produce a score appropriate for modern audiences. They utilised ‘strings, harmonium, piano, oboe and double bass as the key set of sounds’. And for the live performance at the Festival they used synthesiser equipment link to a computer to augment sounds made on traditional acoustic instruments. Along with music for character and mood, the score includes sound effects such as the factory hooter.

The director
MAURICE ELVEY was the most prolific film director in the history of the British film industry, having made over 180 films; many of these were short films, some were episodes in movie series, and several were some extremely popular feature films. Hindle Wakes was Elvey’s 116th film, when he was an established director. However, he is not particularly well known because financial constraints within the British film industry meant that the production values of his films (like those of other British directors of the time) could not really compete with the Hollywood output in commercial terms. The trade papers [like the Kinematograph Weekly] record Hindle Wakes as a box-office success, as was Elvey’s 1918 version. This was a relatively buoyant time for both the director and the Production Company.
Elvey entered the film industry as a director in 1913. He carried on making films for the next forty-four years, mainly in Britain, with a brief sojourn in Hollywood in the 1920s. He worked in most of the major genres, though he tended towards comedies and melodramas. A review of one of his films in the Bioscope magazine refers to the ‘sincere and painstaking’ manner in which it was made. He showed an early commitment to professionalism and a sure sense of the commercial. His films offer a clear sense of English culture and mores, and his surviving silent film work forms a substantial part of our film heritage from that period. The Story of David Lloyd George was directed by Elvey in 1918 but never screened. Believed lost, it was rediscovered in the 1990s. Its restoration sparked new interest in Elvey.
In the early 1930s, he made mainly low-budget costume dramas and comedies. He made an unproblematic transition to sound. He, like most in the industry, benefited from the increased production and sense of social purpose arising from World War II. A film like A Lamp Stills Burns (1943) is a fine example of feature propaganda from the period. An increased sense of realism lasted into the late 1940s and 1950s. But Elvey found himself once more working in low budget melodramas and comedies. His last film was directed in 1957. A failed eye test prompted his resignation and he died in 1967.
Victor Saville, the co-director, went on to make a sound version of the same film in 1931.

The playwright and the play
STANLEY HOUGHTON, who wrote the play, became a dramatist and writer after being involved in amateur theatricals and being a journalist for the Manchester Guardian and Manchester Evening News. He was one of a group of northern playwrights; known as the ‘Manchester School’ who wrote for the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester, probably Britain’s first repertory theatre. In the early 20th century, there was a movement for social and regional dramas based on the newly emerged repertory circuit. This movement was strongly influenced by modern European dramatist, especially Henrik Ibsen. Hindle Wakes opened in 1912, and then enjoyed a London success at the Aldwych Theatre. Houghton moved to London, then Paris and Venice, returning to Manchester where he died in 1913, aged only 32.
The play uses the Lancashire dialect and the first edition of the play notes,
“This play is about Lancashire people. In the smaller Lancashire towns it is quite usual for well-to-do persons, … to drop more or less into dialect when familiar, or when excited, or to point a joke. [i.e. ‘emphasise’.].”
Apart from the two Elvey film versions of the play (made in 1922 and 1927), there is a sound version of the film made in 1931, another made in 1952, and two television versions, one produced by the BBC in the 1950s and one produced by Granada in 1976.

The film’s look and styleA distinctive quality of the film is the use of location work, with scenes shot inside a factory and in Blackpool, including the famous Tower Ballroom. This kind of style is more often associated with later films including those of the 1930s documentary movement, for example, those by Humphrey Jennings.
The film cost between £8,000 and £10,000 to produce, fairly typical of the studio and the period. Most of the production crew were regulars with Gaumont British. The two stars, Estelle Brody and John Stuart, had played the leads in Elvey’s preceding movie about World War I, Mademoiselle From Armentières, 1926.
The film’s credits for cinematography are given to William Shenton and John Cox. However, the elaborate montage in the Blackpool sequence suggests, according to Rachel Low (1), that Basil Emmott may have been involved in this section at least. Emmott was regarded as one of the best British cameramen of the period, and another fine example of his work is John Grierson’s Drifters, 1928.

The 1931 version
Gainsborough Pictures at the Shepherd Bush Studios produced the 1931 version of Hindle Wakes, directed by Victor Saville. Michael Balcon, a key figure in the British film industry from the 1920s to the 1950s, was head of Gainsborough. Gaumont-British had acquired an important financial interest in this production company in 1928. The film also included John Stuart, again playing the role of the mill-owner’s son, Allan. Belle Chrystall played Fanny renamed Jenny in this version.
This was clearly a less costly version than the 1927 film. It is 1800 feet shorter in length, with much less location work. There is actual footage of Blackpool, but it appears to be mainly stock footage (some, apparently, from the 1927 version). There is an extended interior sequence, but the production suffers from the contemporary problems of adjusting to the new sound technology. Quite often both the staging and the acting seem rather ponderous and lacking the fluidity of the 1927 version.
In terms of plotting, the story is presented in a similar fashion to the Elvey version. Both films expand on the play by depicting the events in Blackpool. Both plays stick closely to the theatrical script for the events in the second half, the return to Hindle. Both films present Fanny’s classic statement of Lancashire lass independence, but also imply the possibility of a new romance with a mill hand – one of her own.
One important difference is in the performances of Estelle Brody and Belle Chrystall. Brody adds a note of wistfulness to Fanny’s rejection of Allan at the climax. This wistfulness is completely absent from Chrystall’s performance which accords more closely with the original Houghton script.

The 1952 versionIn 1952 the Monarch Company, essentially a British B-movie production company, made a new version. This had Lisa Daniely as Jenny and Brian Worth as Allan. The film fails to present the distinctive Lancashire working class feel of the play. In a factory scene, Jenny is shown as smitten with Allan before the Wakes Week. This possibly reflects 1950s moral scruples and an attempt to offer emotional justification for the affair. The Blackpool segment of the film is considerably expanded but the climatic Hindle sequences seem rather perfunctory. And Jenny’s flat rejection of Allan lacks motivation given the romantic implications of the early scenes.

Teaching Hindle WakesHindle Wakes provides a fascinating focus of study, not least because it expresses surprisingly modern attitudes to sex and legitimacy. Conflicts created by moral and social codes of behaviour are central to the film’s dramatic development. It challenges our assumptions about working-class women and their independence. This is particularly the case with the play which was written before World War, but even between the wars, we tend not to think of a working class woman as being prepared to turn down the kind of opportunity offered by a proposal from a wealthy young man. Evidently middle-class people had more moralistic concerns about extra-marital sex than working-class people did.
The film offers a number of possibilities for student study usefully illuminating issues of gender, class and sexuality, as well as representations of work and leisure. It offers an interesting portrait of two important institutions of the 1920s – the cotton mill and the holiday resort; and it can be compared with the play and with other film versions.

A level Film StudiesThe WJEC A2 scheme includes two modules on silent cinema. Though neither of these covers British film in the 1920s, Hindle Wakes offers an interesting comparison in terms of style and narrative. It also lends itself to some of the other module topics.
The film can be studied under Authorship, especially in relation to Maurice Elvey, and it relates interestingly to three companion topics, Genre, Production and Performance.
Hindle Wakes is a suitable text for examining the relationship between women and film in a module on gender and film in the critical studies element of the course.

Extracts for study and discussion [positions based on bfi video running times.]
The opening ten minutes:
This is a fine scene setter for the story. We see the place of work and the world of the workers and their bosses. The intrusion of sexual politics into the world of work is suggested by the female names above the furnaces. This sequence includes the use of superimposition, i.e. the placing of images over one another in the frame. Thus, the images of the firemen stoking the two furnaces, Alice and Sally, overlap and they also overlap with the town skyline, with the prominent mill chimneys. The technique of overlapping images from one shot to another is known as a dissolve. Both techniques could be achieved in camera, by rewinding and reshooting film; however, more commonly they were done in post-production using a device called an optical printer.
The knocker-upper, [see explanation in synopsis] is part of the mill-town setting along with the terraced houses and cobbled streets. The film then cuts between the working-class household of the Hawthorns, in Cotton Street: and the master’s mansion in Midas Avenue. The characters are quickly established, relying on generic conventions familiar to 1920s audiences The disruption of the sequence by the factory hooter, calling the mill-hands to the day’s work, transports us from the domestic world to that of work.
Ask students to describe the visual characteristics of the working class Hawthorns and of the upper class Jeffcotes. They could then trace these characteristics as visual motifs through the film as the narrative develops.
Note, the two furnaces, with female names, suggest an interesting investigation of the symbols of male and female in the film, and how they relate to the representation of gender and sexuality.

Blackpool, 20 minutes into the film. The sequence runs for seven minutes and includes the scene in the Tower Ballroom.
In three or four minutes the film establishes the setting of Blackpool as a holiday resort. The Tower Ballroom is the key site of pleasure and promise in this resort. We see the initial encounter between Fanny and Allan. The sequence uses relatively short shots, edited together in what is frequently termed a ‘montage’, introducing the world of the resort with great brevity and condensation.

The scene in Mary and Fanny’s lodgings, 40 minutes into the film. The sequence runs for five minutes, including the introduction of the postcard
An Intertitle, ‘Lights Fairyland Romance’ sets up the sequence. We see Mary alone as she wonders about Fanny, emphasised by the lodgings being locked up for the night. Fanny returns and tells Mary of her proposed affair. Though the sequence lasts just on five minutes, the crucial plot information, the title card showing dialogue, only appears at the end of the scene.
[Insert still of title card – “Allan’s taking me to Llandudno for rest of holidays.” This is a fine example of how actors, through mime and conventional gesture, were able to communicate the development of the story to audiences.

Fanny’s rejection of Allan, 102 minutes into the film. This sequence runs for just under six minutes.
This scene follows the play very closely. However, Brody adds a wistful note to her actions. There are separate shots of her, first, moving to touch Allan but stopping: and then looking back at the unregarding Allan. This suggests more longing that she openly admits to.
After this the Hawthorns return to Cotton Street and Fanny pack s and leaves home. There follows her ‘Lancashire Lass’ speech on Intertitles [presumably yes]- It is slightly shortened from the play version and whereas there it is addressed to Allan, in the film it follows her departure from home. Next day Fanny returns to work.
Even with Brody’s wistfulness, the sequence emphasises female choice. One of Fanny’s comments pointedly picks up the question of marriage. She refers to Allan as ‘my fancy’. The character expresses a degree of autonomy unusual in films of that and even later periods. This is a remarkably advanced expression of female emancipation for the period.

Cinema and State The Film Industry and the British Government 1927 – 84, by Margaret Dickinson and Sarah Street, BFI 1985.
The Commercial Imperative in the British Film Industry; Maurice Elvey, A Case Study, Edited by Linda Wood, published by the British Film Institute, 1987.
Hindle Wakes by Stanley Houghton, published Hereford Plays Edition, 1988.
The History of the British Film, 1918 – 1929, by Rachel Low, published by Allen and Unwin, 1971.
Bioscope, various issues from 1917, 1918 and 1927, held in the BFI Library.
Kinematograph Weekly, various issues from 1927, held in BFI Library.
Picturegoer, September 1927, held in BFI Library.

This is a shortened version of a study originally produced for bfi Education. My thanks to them for permission to reproduce the article. Stills are courtesy of Il Giornate del Cinema Muto.

The film can be found DVD Pal on the Web. The bfi have a 35mm print available for exhibtion.

3 Responses to “Hindle Wakes”

  1. […] there is a longer and more detailed discussion of the film on Early and Silent Cinema. Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailPrintLinkedInStumbleUponDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

  2. Lowell said

    This text is worth everyone’s attention. How can I find out

  3. keith1942 said

    There is the DVD referenced – and last time I was in the BFI Library they had copies of the Elvey profile for sale.

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