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East is East (1916)

Main image of East is East (1916)
35mm, black and white, silent, 4,850 feet
DirectorHenry Edwards
Production CompaniesDrama Exclusive
 Turner Film Company
Produced byHenry Edwards
Adapted byHenry Edwards
Original playPhilip E. Hubbard
 G. Logan
PhotographyTom White

Cast: Florence Turner (Victoria Vickers); Henry Edwards (Bert Grummet); Edith Evans (aunt); Ruth Mackay (Mrs Carrington); W.G. Saunders (Dawson)

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A Cockney girl wins money and tries to acclimatise herself to Society, but ends up returning to her old East End sweetheart.

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This charming tale of childhood sweethearts separated by circumstance, class and money punches above its weight due to some fine acting and intelligent direction from one of British silent film's forgotten talents.

Henry Edwards was a well liked actor who had transferred at an early age from the stage to the film. He began to make films for the Turner film company, who operated from Hepworth's studio at Walton on Thames. Company owner Florence Turner, a star in her own right, played opposite Edwards, who he also directed. Edwards seems to have had an innate or instinctive understanding of cinema space both as an actor and director, and despite being hampered as everyone else at that early date by rather fixed sets and camera positions, he uses himself and the other actors to convey the space beyond the fourth wall creating the illusion of a satisfyingly convincing world.

The story is conventional - east versus west (London) poor versus rich, working class versus upper middle class. Our two protagonists are propelled out of their childhood poverty by hard work, business acumen and a 'break' in his case, pure chance and luck in hers. Their dilemma, apart from societies forbidding them to bond, is that they can't go back and they can't find a place in between that they can happily inhabit. In the end, the compromise (as ever in British film) is to retreat to a country idyll, the 'rose cottage' of our collective, national imagination.

The locations are well chosen and evocative of a bygone era, particularly the lovely scenes in the Kentish hop fields. The film is also notable for capturing an early performance by Edith Evans who outrageously upstages everyone at every opportunity.

Bryony Dixon

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Video Clips
1. Childhood sweethearts (9:24)
2. Hoppin' (8:56)
3. 'East is East' (12:11)
Edwards, Henry (1883-1952)
Evans, Edith (1888-1976)
Silent Lovers