Millions Like Us (1943)


(director/writer: Sidney Gilliat/Frank Launder; cinematographers: Jack Cox/Roy Fogwell; editor: R.E. Dearing; music: Hubert Bath; cast: Patricia Roc (Celia Crowson), Anne Crawford (Jennifer Knowles), Megs Jenkins (Gwen Price), Gordon Jackson (Fred Blake), Eric Portman (Charlie Forbes), Moore Marriott (Jim Crowson), Valentine Dunn (Elsie Crowson), Joy Shelton (Phyllis Crowson), Basil Radford (Charters), Naunton Wayne (Caldicott); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edward Black; MGM; 1943-UK)
“Heartwarming, observant, unsentimental patriotic propaganda British film shot during wartime.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The only time that Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder directed together, as they stated it was confusing for the actors to have two directors on the set (they took turns getting credit for the films they worked together on). The long-paired team did the winning script for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). “Millions” is a heartwarming, observant, unsentimental patriotic propaganda British film shot during wartime but without the usual flag-waving, instead aiming on recruiting women to help the war effort by getting them to volunteer in the unglamorous wartime factories to keep the war machine going. Its narrative is written by Gilliat and Launder and centered around how a typical working-class family does its bit during the war, providing the country with its ‘never say die’ spirit. Jack Cox and Roy Fogwell photographed the home front from the onset of WW II and the stunning black and white photography give it a realistic documentary look.

Dad (Moore Marriott) joins the Home Guard, dad’s second wife Elsie (Valentine Dunn) goes back to her old job as a telephone operator, the oldest daughter (Joy Shelton) joins the WAAFs, the shy youngest daughter Celia (Patricia Roc) goes to work on an all-girls assembly line at a munitions factory in the north and the son, who is never seen, is sent overseas to fight.

Celia’s gruff straight-talking working-class Yorkshire plant’s foreman Charlie Forbes (Eric Portman) tries to keep the diverse girls from fighting, and he falls for the cynical well-dressed society city girl Jennifer (Anne Crawford). But both know marriage is out of the question due to class differences.

The narrative tells its moving story from the point of view of the plain looking ordinary city dwelling working-class girl Celia, who rooms in a female hostel with former university student Gwen (Meg Jenkins). Celia falls in love with and marries Scottish RAF flier Fred Blake (Gordon Jackson), and their sincere relationship and his death in battle forms the dramatics for the narrative. The war widow, in the end, feels the warmth from the communal bonds of the hostel as everyone rallies to support her suffering. It’s thereby implied the nation also will be held together like Celia was by her hostel mates, as all citizens must come together during the war to support each other for the cause. Communal singing helps cheer the souls and bring the people together, as the film has an earnest way of tapping into what their audience was experiencing at the time.

For comic relief, the unflappable Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne recreate their double act from Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Here they play soldiers casually burying dangerous land mines in the sand at a former popular beach resort. Trying to recall where they buried the land mines, one of them dryly remarks, “Must remember not to bathe here after the war.”