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Hobson's Choice (1953)


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!

Late Victorian Manchester. Bootmaker Henry Hobson is a wealthy widower with three unmarried daughters. They run the shop and his home, leaving him free to spend most of his time getting drunk at the Moonrakers inn. He decides that the two youngest and prettiest girls, Alice and Vicky, should marry; they have no shortage of suitors. He considers his eldest daughter, Maggie, who is past 30, too old to marry - she is to remain at home to care for him.

One of his most valued customers, Mrs. Hepworth, is so pleased with the boots made by the boot-hand, Willie Mossop, in the basement, that she insists he make her footwear from now on.

When Hobson discusses his plans with his tradesmen cronies at the Moonrakers, they worry him by mentioning marriage settlements. Hobson has not thought of this and is reluctant to part with his money. Maggie, however, astounds him by announcing her own intention to marry - without a settlement. That evening, when Hobson makes his regular visit to the pub, Maggie summons Willie into the parlour. She proposes that they marry and go into business together; he is the shop's most valuable asset and will attract customers with the quality of his work. Willie is amazed, but agrees to go out with Maggie the following Sunday, when she tells him she does not mind that he doesn't love her. But there is another obstacle - Willie is 'promised' to his landlady's daughter. Maggie visits his lodgings straightaway, tells the women that Willie will marry her, and finds him other lodgings until the wedding. She also starts coaching Willie, teaching him to read and write properly, and to gain more confidence.

Horrified to hear that Maggie plans to wed his boot-hand, Hobson threatens Willie with a beating, but the little man stands up to him, to Maggie's relief and pleasure. They set up business on their own, borrowing from Mrs. Hepworth the capital to buy a shop, where they can also live. Hobson's home life begins to suffer - his younger daughters are too preoccupied to cook and care for him as Maggie did. Getting even drunker than usual at the Moonrakers, he insults his friends, goes out and falls into the cellar of the corn merchant, Beenstock. When he emerges the next morning, he is served with a summons for trespass and damage by Beenstock - prompted by Maggie, who has had an idea.

All the family, including her sisters' suitors - the lawyer Albert Prosser and Beenstock's son Freddy - are invited to the wedding supper. Hobson seeks Maggie's advice about the summons, anxious to avoid the expense of hiring a solicitor or the embarrassment of going to court. Prosser proposes a thousand pound settlement, but Maggie says that Hobson can pay five hundred, which will cover her sisters' marriage settlements. Hobson realises he has been tricked.

When everyone has left, Maggie prepares for bed, leaving Willie to finish a writing exercise she has set for him. Willie is nervous about his wedding night and approaches it like a man going into battle.

The next morning, their first customer arrives - to buy penny bootlaces. By the following winter the shop, now full of the boots and shoes Willie has made, has been so successful that he has repaid Mrs. Hepworth's loan.

Hobson is now practically drinking himself to death. When he starts to hallucinate, he realises how seriously ill he is and calls for the doctor, who recommends total abstinence. Maggie expects Alice and Vicky to look after him, while Willie runs Hobson's business. By now Vicky is pregnant and both she and Alice refuse to take care of their father. Hobson makes Willie an offer - he can come back and be the boot-hand again. But Willie tells him that he already has most of Hobson's customers, and is prepared to go into partnership only if Hobson is a sleeping partner and doesn't interfere with the running of the business. He also wants his name above the shop - Mossop and Hobson. Even Maggie is startled by Willie's new assertiveness. Hobson finally agrees to the terms and has Prosser draw up the contract.