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Ordinary People (1941)


Main image of Ordinary People (1941)
35mm, black and white, 27 mins
DirectorsJack Lee
 J.B. Holmes
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
SponsorMinistry of Information
PhotographyJonah Jones

How London goes about its daily business despite German air raids.

Show full synopsis

From the opening address "To the future historian - this film was played by ordinary people of London", we are made aware that Ordinary People is a carefully constructed piece. The statement anticipates our inevitable question about its authenticity - yes, it is reconstructed, but it is acted by ordinary people, such as you might find anywhere in London during the Blitz.

Directed for the Crown Film Unit by J.B. Holmes and Jack Lee, the film was produced principally for export, to elicit the sympathies of Britain's allies. It shows a day in the life, amid recognisable London landmarks, of blameless civilians dealing with nightly bombing raids and behaving with admirable sang-froid. The message is clear: these people need help, but they are calm, ordered and indomitable. They are "why Hitler cannot win".

The film opens with the sound of the allclear as dawn rises over Tower Bridge and we see the city awaken, the vicar emerging from the shelter to see what devastation the night has brought. Picking over the rubble, people discuss whose house has been hit; a couple take in a woman and her daughter who have lost their home, and give them tea; a judge continues his proceedings in a basement shelter with a dartboard aping the regalia of the courtroom; a taxi driver picks up a fare who is worried about bombs - he reassures her: 'That's alright, lady - it's my lucky day.'

We end as we began, bedded down in the shelters, with the sound of singing as the bombs begin to fall again. And if the 'cockerney' gorblimeyness is slightly toe-curling to us today, remember that, despite the address to the 'future historian', it's not really for us, and it's as true as it needed to be then.

Bryony Dixon

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

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. A jolly crowd (2:35)
2. Business as usual (2:40)
3. In the shelter (5:04)
Complete film (27:22)
If War Should Come (1939)
They Also Serve (1940)
Lee, Jack (1913-2002)