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Words and Actions (1943)

Courtesy of Transco National Gas Archive

Main image of Words and Actions (1943)
35mm, black and white, 14 mins
DirectorMax Anderson
Production CompanyRealist Film Unit
SponsorBritish Commercial Gas Association
ProducerEdgar Anstey

Reconstructed case histories encouraging people to think for themselves, stand up for their rights, and thus develop true democracy.

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Starting out as a film essay on the idea of democracy, Words and Actions builds into a rousing call to action. Dramatised case studies show entrepreneurial women and men taking the initiative and improving the lot of themselves and their community through decisive individual effort. Whether it is starting a neighbourhood fire-watching scheme or fighting covetous creditors in court, the implicit message of the title is that words are easy, but only actions bring progress. Watched today, Words and Actions is most interesting when it moves beyond the (still very real) issues of life at war in 1943, in anticipation of the even greater problems of the coming peace.

Produced under the auspices of the British Commercial Gas Association, the leftist politics of the film almost certainly belong more to its production team than its sponsor. The independence of the film is one of its greatest assets, allowing the filmmakers to promote a vision of democracy that puts people power ahead of government rule. Just as the trade unionists and suffragettes struggled for their rights in the past, opinions should be fought for, even when they differ from current political trends.

Beliefs such as these were part of the sweeping social change that brought Labour to power in the immediate postwar period. Whether this led to greater democracy or a simple changing of the guard is another matter, but in Words and Actions the hopes and determination of a new political generation find forceful expression.

Jez Stewart

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950'.

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Video Clips
1. Domestic problems (4:11)
2. Rule by the people (1:33)
3. Trade unions (0:49)
Complete film (14:09)
Monthly Film Bulletin review