Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Waterloo Road (1944)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Waterloo Road (1944)
35mm, black and white, 76 mins
DirectorSidney Gilliat
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerEdward Black
ScriptVal Valentine
Based on a story bySidney Gilliat
PhotographyArthur Crabtree
 Phil Grindrod

Cast: John Mills (Jim Colter); Joy Shelton (Tillie Colter); Stewart Granger (Ted Purvis); Beatrice Varley (Mrs Colter); Alastair Sim (Dr Montgomery)

Show full cast and credits

London 1940: Tillie Colter, lonely during her husband Jim's army service, falls for the local charmer Ted Purvis, who has dodged the army. Jim discovers the relationship and deserts the Army to return home.

Show full synopsis

The final film in an unofficial trilogy produced by Edward Black before he left Gainsborough, Waterloo Road (d. Sidney Gilliat, 1944) is even more low-key than its predecessors Millions Like Us (d. Frank Launder & Gilliat, 1943) and Two Thousand Women (d. Launder, 1944), and makes a stark contrast to the florid costume melodramas supervised by Black's arch-rival Maurice Ostrer.

But, as before, the relatively simple story (soldier Jim Colter (John Mills) absconds from his regiment to investigate rumours that his wife Tillie (Joy Shelton) is being unfaithful behind his back) is largely an excuse for another detailed portrait of life during wartime.

While the earlier films largely focused on women's lives (as factory workers and internees respectively), Waterloo Road is about the problems faced by families in general and couples in particular, forcibly separated by duty's demands. At the simplest level, Fred and Ruby are ships that pass in the night, thanks to incompatible shifts - but Jim and Tillie have to deal with the far greater trauma of being separated for months at a time, with no guarantee that Jim will ever return, let alone the prospect of their own home.

Despite the smaller canvas, writer-director Gilliat more than compensates by creating impressively rounded characters. John Mills is a model of furrowed-brow seriousness, motivated both by genuine love for his wife and acute regret at the way he's neglected her. Joy Shelton is wholly convincing as the woman both attracted and repelled by the prospect of a dangerous fling, while Stewart Granger is cast against type as the Cockney spiv who sweet-talks Tillie. Despite the occasional wobbly accent, he does a surprisingly effective job of showing that even the villainous Ted Purvis has legitimate motives.

But the most admirable figures are on the sidelines: although initially used as comic relief, the AWOL Canadian soldier Mike Duggan (Leslie Bradley), who happily rejoins his regiment when there's a sign that they might be going into action, is ultimately a strangely heroic figure, sticking to his principles even when they conflict with officialdom's.

And above all, there's Alastair Sim's lugubrious, seemingly all-knowing Dr Montgomery - he's not onscreen for long, but the story is told in flashback from his point of view, and he's clearly the presiding intelligence. Gilliat and Sim would work together regularly for the next fifteen years, during which Sim would play many of his most memorable roles.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Going AWOL (5:11)
2. About Ted Purvis (3:45)
3. Dancefloor raid (3:03)
Production stills
Publicity materials
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Millions Like Us (1943)
Two Thousand Women (1944)
Gilliat, Sidney (1908-1994)
Granger, Stewart (1913-1993)
Mills, John (1908-2005)
Roome, Alfred (1908-1997)
Sim, Alastair (1900-1976)
Watson, Wylie (1889-1966)
Launder and Gilliat