Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Spare Time (1939)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

An industrial skyline; monumental chimney stacks, gas holders and endless terraces. People leave work, pushing bicycles, getting on buses and greeting each other in the street.

Sheffield. A voice over explains how the leisure time of steel workers is shaped by the three-shift system - free mornings and afternoons are as important as evenings. Band members gather, throwing darts as they wait to begin practice, finally, they start to play, Elsewhere, people walk whippets, release pigeons, fit wheels to bicycles and drink in a pub garden. Crowds' jostle into a football ground; a goal is nearly scored.

Manchester and Bolton. Cotton workers' hours are 8-5, half-day Saturday, and Sunday off. On a parade ground, a kazoo band advances. A boy draws chalk figures on a pavement and a woman fills a watering can. Some members of the kazoo band, carry a child dressed as Britannia.

Belle Vue zoo: caged tigers and lions growl at visitors. A play is rehearsed. Wrestlers fight before amused spectators. The empty floor of a ballroom gradually fills with energetic dancers.

Pontypridd. A siren rings out over the colliery town. A fairground of spinning rides and a shy. Morning comes and a pianist begins to play, a choir circling around her. From the keys of the piano to white beer pumps being pulled; men sit around in a pub, playing cards and billiards. An audience of (mostly) women watches a puppet show. In a high street, a couple flirt outside a shop. A basketball match is in progress at the YMCA. The sun sets, a woman serves dinner and an old man walks home, his silhouette superimposed against a corrugated iron fence.

Voiceover: "Spare time is the time where people can be most themselves." The siren rings again. Workers in overalls walk towards the mine, pack into a lift and descend.