Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Two Thousand Women (1944)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Two Thousand Women (1944)
35mm, black and white, 97 mins
Directed byFrank Launder
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
Produced byEdward Black
Written byFrank Launder
Additional DialogueMichael Pertwee
PhotographyJack Cox

Cast: Phyllis Calvert (Freda Thompson); Flora Robson (Miss Muriel Manningford); Patricia Roc ('Rosemary Brown'/Mary Maugham); Renee Houston (Maud Wright); Jean Kent (Bridie Johnson)

Show full cast and credits

The inhabitants of a women's internment camp in Nazi-occupied France put aside their social differences and band together in solidarity against their captors, which becomes essential to their survival when RAF pilots inadvertently land nearby and seek their help.

Show full synopsis

If there's a single theme running through Frank Launder's varied body of work, it's a recurring interest in strong-willed, defiantly independent women - Jennifer Knowles in Millions Like Us (co-d. Sidney Gilliat, 1943), Bridie Quilty in I See A Dark Stranger (1946), Miss Whitchurch in The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), the anarchic St Trinian's pupils (and staff) in The Belles of St Trinian's (1954) and its sequels.

Two Thousand Women (1944), a drama set in a women's internment camp in Nazi-occupied France, was produced for Gainsborough by Edward Black, waving a lonely flag for realism at a studio that had dedicated itself to melodrama following the huge success of The Man in Grey (d. Leslie Arliss, 1943). But while there is plenty of melodrama in Two Thousand Women (and familiar Gainsborough faces: Phyllis Calvert, Patricia Roc, Anne Crawford, Jean Kent, Dulcie Gray), Launder's purpose is fundamentally serious.

We are told not only the women's names but also their backgrounds, subtle distinctions drawn between the genuinely upper-class Miss Manningford (Flora Robson) and the pretender Mrs Hope Latimer (Hilda Campbell-Russell), regional Britain being represented by Scotswoman Maud (Renée Houston) and Lancastrian Mrs Burtshaw (Thora Hird), and there's even a hint of lesbianism between the Misses Manningford and Meredith (Muriel Aked) - depicted remarkably non-judgementally for the period.

This approach creates tension on several levels (especially when they discover that a Nazi spy is amongst them), setting up hurdles when they need to band together in order to protect the airmen when they accidentally land in the camp's grounds. But though this subplot dominates the second half, the men are largely irrelevant - Launder is much more interested in how the women fare under pressure.

Their camaraderie takes many forms: a bath becomes a lively social event, they organise classes and concerts, and even break out in spontaneous defiance, applauding when Frau Holweg (Christina Forbes) announces that the airmen have infiltrated the building. And the film itself is quietly subversive, setting up what look like stock romantic clichés only to undermine them with unexpected twists.

The film was a big commercial success (the 1944 cinema audience being overwhelmingly female) and although the male critical establishment was sniffily dismissive at the time, it has had a healthy afterlife in feminist film studies. In particular, it has been championed for portraying a genuinely independent female point of view - something highly unusual for the time.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Signing in (2:41)
2. A very public bath (2:59)
3. An eventful night (2:58)
4. Real men at last (3:01)
Production stills
Publicity materials
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Millions Like Us (1943)
Bryan, John (1911-1969)
Calvert, Phyllis (1915-2002)
Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)
Launder, Frank (1906-1997)
Robson, Flora (1902-1984)
Roc, Patricia (1915-2003)
Launder and Gilliat
Social Problem Films