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Kid for Two Farthings, A (1955)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Kid for Two Farthings, A (1955)
35mm, colour, 96 mins
Directed byCarol Reed
Production CompanyLondon Film Productions
Produced byCarol Reed
Screenplay byWolf Mankowitz
Director of PhotographyEdward Scaife
MusicBenjamin Frankel

Cast: Celia Johnson (Joanna); Diana Dors (Sonia); David Kossoff (Avrom Kandinsky); Joe Robinson (Sam Heppner); Jonathan Ashmore (Joe); Brenda de Banzie ('Lady' Ruby)

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The adventures of a boy who listens to tales of magic unicorns, and buys a small goat, in the hope that this will grant his friends' wishes.

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Adapted by Wolf Mankowitz from his own novel, A Kid for Two Farthings was Carol Reed's first colour production, and his last wholly British film until Oliver! some thirteen years later. It's also a very rare example of a genuine Anglo-Jewish film, partly filmed on location in Petticoat Lane in London's East End, at the heart of what was still a thriving Jewish community (whose decline would be recorded a few years later in Robert Vas' 1962 documentary The Vanishing Street), happily coexisting cheek by jowl with more traditional East End elements.

Much of the film's fascination today comes from this background detail, the street market (the location was renamed 'Fashion Street' for the film) being packed with memorable characters: the affectionate Mrs Abramowitz (Irene Handl), blowsy fashionista Lady Ruby (Brenda de Banzie) crooked jewellery salesman Ice Berg (Sid James), finicky tailor 'Madam Rita' (Sidney Tafler) and decrepit shopkeeper Mr Kandinsky (David Kossoff).

It's in the latter's shop that young Joe (Jonathan Ashmore) sees his imagination most heavily stimulated, taking Mr Kandinsky's fables all too literally when he buys a young goat in the mistaken belief that it's a magical unicorn whose powers will transform the lives of Joe and his mother Joanna (Celia Johnson) and grant Mr Kandinsky his longed-for steam-powered trouser-press. That this ultimately fails to happen underscores one of the film's key themes: the loss of innocence that Reed had earlier explored so memorably in The Fallen Idol (1948).

Joe's adventures are counterbalanced by the equally childlike romance of Sonia (Diana Dors) and her body-building boyfriend Sam (Joe Robinson), the latter's misguided involvement with crooked wrestling promoter Blackie Isaacs (Lou Jacobi) adding a further injection of local colour. Like Joe, Sam has a specific material goal in mind, the funding of an engagement ring for Sonia, and while his ambition is somewhat more practical at base, it's also prone to fanciful idealism: the fact that Sam and Sonia have been engaged for four years hints at earlier schemes that have failed to come off.

A Kid for Two Farthings is not one of Reed's more successful films: Joe's fantasies are ultimately more cloying than cute, and neither Ashmore nor Johnson make especially convincing working-class East Enders. But Dors and Robinson are an appealingly convincing couple, and the background detail ensures that the film will last, if only as a whimsical curiosity.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Petticoat Lane (1903)
Vanishing Street, The (1962)
Bass, Alfie (1920-1987)
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Handl, Irene (1901-1987)
James, Sidney (1913-1976)
Johnson, Dame Celia (1908-1982)
Reed, Carol (1906-1976)
Tafler, Sydney (1916-79)