Stanley Houghton's popular play of Lancashire life had been filmed before in 1927 (d. Maurice Elvey) and would be again in 1952 (d. Arthur Crabtree). It was also televised by BBC (1950), and Granada (1976). Some actors appeared in more than version.
The play was controversial when first performed in 1912, for it was part of a growing reaction against the legacy of Victorian morality. Houghton was a member of the 'Manchester School of Drama', noted for its realism, and he was much influenced by Henrik Ibsen. Houghton's plays dealt with revolt against parental authority and generational conflict.
The producers of the 1931 version described it as a story of everyday life, featuring real people with flaws and problems, "not artificially manufactured to provide screen thrills". Neither was the film intended as a moral tract.
This screen realism was demonstrated by shots of real looms in a real factory in the opening and closing sequences. Shots of mill workers in shawls and clogs pouring through the factory gates recall some of the earliest surviving documentary film footage from the turn of the 20th century. Location shooting at the Blackpool funfair was also incorporated.
The cast included many well-known stage performers - Edmund Gwenn, Sybil Thorndike and Mary Clare in particular. Thorndike, under the direction of her husband Lewis Casson, had appeared in the 1912 production in London, alongside other actors from the Manchester Gaiety Theatre.
Director Victor Saville embellishes his realistic scenes with atmospheric film lighting and framing. In one striking sequence, Jenny is in the centre of the frame between the two mothers, their profiles photographed in close-up, looking from one to the other as they argue about her future.
Houghton lived only one more year after the success of his play. He died in 1913, aged 32. The most famous play of the Manchester School was Hobson's Choice, by Harold Brighouse, and this was also filmed several times, notably with David Lean directing in 1953. It also dealt with parent/daughter conflict and a woman's right to live her own life on her own terms. Love on the Dole, Walter Greenwood's famous novel of life in a northern town during the Depression, was dramatized for the stage in 1934 and filmed in 1941 (d. John Baxter).