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People at No. 19, The (1949)


Main image of People at No. 19, The (1949)
35mm, 18 minutes, black & white
DirectorJ.B. Holmes
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
SponsorsCentral Office of Information
 Ministry of Health
 Central Council for Health Education
ScriptJohn Rowden

Cast: Tilsa Page (Joan); Desmond Carrington (Ken); Margery Fleeson (Mum); Russell Waters (Dad)

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Public information film warning of the potentially tragic effects of venereal disease on family life.

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Reported cases of sexually transmitted disease took a sharp rise during and after World War II, but as this film testifies, sexual license amongst soldiers on the frontline wasn't the sole cause. Back on the home front, for many women, like Joan from No. 19, loneliness or newfound independence acted as an incentive to extramarital promiscuity.

In what is presumably intended as a more direct appeal to young women in postwar Britain, director J.B. Holmes, under the patriarchal control of the Central Office of Information (COI), dispenses with the detached medical explanations deployed in similar films (for example the Ministry of Information's Subject For Discussion, 1943), favouring instead the high-voltage stylistics of melodrama.

"It couldn't happen to me," Joan repeats in stunned disbelief on learning from her doctor that she has contracted syphilis. All the quintessential ingredients of 'women's films' are called upon to drive home the message that marriage and motherhood is the right path to follow. The expressive lighting and exaggerated performances - and the raging marital accusations and bread-knife brandishing that goes on behind closed doors at No. 19 - are closer to contemporary Gainsborough melodramas than to other, more sober, state-sponsored health warnings of the time.

The 1940s saw an increased integration of nonfiction and fictional approaches, and professional actors, studio-sets and written dialogue became commonplace in nonfiction films. Similarly, documentary techniques informed the development of cinematic realism in feature filmmaking, notably in the 'social problem films' of the 1950s and the 1960s 'new wave'. Holmes was instrumental in the development of the story-documentary, and his subsequent COI commission, Probation Officer (1949), again successfully drew on fictional narrative for propagandist ends.

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
1. Everything will be all right (3:53)
2. Why me? (2:14)
Clore, Leon (1918-1992)
Central Office of Information (1946-2012)
Crown Film Unit
Public Information Fillers