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Chance of a Lifetime (1950)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Chance of a Lifetime (1950)
35mm, black and white, 89 mins
DirectorBernard Miles
Production CompanyBernard Miles Productions
ProducerBernard Miles
ScreenplayWalter Greenwood
 Bernard Miles
CinematographyEric Cross
MusicNoel Mewton-Wood

Cast: Basil Radford (Dickinson); Niall MacGinnis (Frank Baxter); Bernard Miles (George Stevens); Julien Mitchell (Ted Morris); Kenneth More (Adam Watson); Geoffrey Keen (Harry Bolger)

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When industrial relations in a small agricultural tools factory grow fractious, the owner challenges his workers to run the company better themselves. To his surprise, his offer is accepted.

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A decade before I'm All Right, Jack (d. John Boulting, 1959) and The Angry Silence (d. Guy Green, 1960) depicted industrial strife through respective comedic and melodramatic lenses, Bernard Miles' second film as director presented a post-war plea for harmony on the factory floor.

Such harmony is scarcely in evidence at the outset of the film: the opening scenes pulse with tension between management and workforce, an antipathy stemming from wartime ranks and experiences. If the outcome of employer-employee unity seems utopian, it is much to the film's credit that the progression of events is rendered credibly, thanks in no little part to expert casting. Basil Radford and Bernard Miles embody decency on opposite sides of the industrial equation, and the factory is filled with accomplished character actors, such as Niall MacGinnis as the main troublemaker Baxter. Novelist Compton MacKenzie contributes a cameo as the bank president, while Peter Jones plays one of the borderline comic Xenobians, benevolent emissaries apparently from behind the Iron Curtain.

The film's final line highlights its consensual message: with reference to their revolutionary plough, a tearful Miss Cooper is moved to remark, "We've found the one way too, haven't we?" Despite works manager Bland's quip that the "half-baked bolshies" will be painting the factory red, and the horror of Dickinson's moneyed cronies, Dickinson opts for compromise. This reassuring conclusion also smacks of compromise on the part of Miles and his co-screenwriter Walter Greenwood (author of Love on the Dole). Retreating, like many leftwing filmmakers of the time, from the more revolutionary implications of their premise, they have the fledgling managers abandon the boardroom, thus demonstrating just how much the workers need their superiors.

Bernard Miles seems to have practiced the democratic spirit he preached, insisting that his editor Alan Osbiston be credited as associate director. Alas, the world of film distribution failed to prove as harmonious as Miles' film set. Reacting against its perceived socialist agenda, the major film circuits refused to show it, and it was even castigated as "propaganda for communism and workers' control in industry" by the Ministry of Labour. The President of the Board of Trade, Harold Wilson, disagreed and, urged on by the film's producer Filippe del Guidice, personally intervened to impose its release on the Odeon circuit. Regrettably, it was not a financial success, although Miles later spoke of his pride on making a film to "speak for England".

Fintan McDonagh

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Video Clips
1. Social conscience (4:23)
2. It's the old old story (2:51)
3. The business of business (3:16)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Angry Silence, The (1960)
I'm All Right Jack (1959)
Man in the White Suit, The (1951)
Del Giudice, Filippo (1892-1962)
Jacques, Hattie (1922-1980)
Miles, Bernard (1907-1991)
More, Kenneth (1914-1982)
Radford, Basil (1897-1952)