It was Alexander Korda who suggested Harold Brighouse's 1915 stage comedy Hobson's Choice to David Lean as a possible film project. It had been filmed twice before, by Percy Nash in 1920 and Thomas Bentley in 1931. The title is a pun - 'Hobson's Choice' is no choice at all, precisely the situation Henry Hobson finds himself in by the end of the play.
Charles Laughton had already made several successful films for Korda before he was offered Hobson, a role he had actually played on stage as a teenager in his native Scarborough. He was the first real international star that David Lean had worked with up to that time. John Mills, replacing first choice Robert Donat as Willie Mossop, reveals a lovely gift for comedy, especially in the gentle pantomime of the preparations for his wedding night. (By the end of the film, not only has Willie gained in confidence, his very unattractive pudding bowl haircut has begun to grow out, too.) Brenda de Banzie is excellent as the determined Maggie, not afraid to show the character's tender side and the warmth of her affection for Mossop, beneath all her bullying and bluster. A very young Prunella Scales can be glimpsed in one of her first film roles.
In its overall look, the film marked a temporary return to the late Victorian setting of Lean's adaptations of Dickens. The director's touch is as technically assured as ever, as evident in the famous sequence of Hobson's fall into the cellar after his drunken pursuit of the moon's reflection in the rain puddles outside the Moonrakers pub. The ominous opening scene, in which the camera pans anxiously along the street on a stormy night, reveals nothing more sinister than Hobson's shop and his own figure lurching drunkenly through the doorway. Although the play was dated even by the time of filming, it is beautifully constructed and its characters painted with such affection - and performed so well - that it remains a pleasure to watch.