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Love on the Dole (1941)


Main image of Love on the Dole (1941)
35mm, 99 min, black & white
DirectorJohn Baxter
Production CompanyBritish National Films
ProducerJohn Baxter
Associate DirectorLance Comfort
ScriptWalter Greenwood
PhotographyJ. Wilson

Cast: Deborah Kerr (Sally Hardcastle); Clifford Evans (Larry Meath); George Carney (Mr Hardcastle); Geoffrey Hibbert (Harry Hardcastle); Joyce Howard (Helen Hawkins); Frank Cellier (Sam Grundy)

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In 1930s Salford, young Harry Hardcastle and his sister Sally both, in their different ways, fall victim to poverty and unemployment, and have to make difficult decisions to survive.

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Love on the Dole is a strange film to emerge during the darkest days of the Second World War, dealing as it does with the Depression, mass unemployment, poverty, pre-marital pregnancy, riots and prostitution - not exactly an uplifting, patriotic film. Most contemporary films were either propagandist or escapist fare: comedies and romances. The film was, in fact, originally proposed in 1936, only to fall foul of the censor, who described it as "a very sordid story in a very sordid surrounding."

Even when the same censor passed the scenario in 1940, British National initially held back the production, electing instead to make the more patriotic This England (d. David MacDonald, 1941). Why the change? Quite simply, war had changed the rules. Mass unemployment no longer existed; there was war work for everyone, even women. There was also a feeling that the past had to be acknowledged and a determination that such unemployment and poverty not be repeated. Such sentiments are expressed in the opening and closing statements of the film (the latter added in 1947), while Mrs Hardcastle, in the film's closing lines, says, " day we'll all be wanted. The men who've forgotten how to work, and the young 'uns who've never had a job. There must be no Hanky Park, no more."

Moreover, the film reinforces the view that Britain and its working classes had survived such hardships and would survive others. The script is peppered with references to a new start or a better and cooperative future, where "everybody lends a hand" or there is a "little effort from everyone" to build "a new and better world." Unlike its fascist enemies and the (then) neutral communist Soviet Union, Britain had, despite the hardships, retained its liberal democracy - a democracy now under greater threat.

The film is not all doom and gloom, and the quartet of women - acting, as critics noted, as a 'Greek chorus' - provide comic relief. Their characters, in many ways, presage the gossiping Ena Sharples, Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhirst in the early Coronation Street (ITV, 1961- ), especially in the scene where they sit in their local's private bar criticising their neighbours.

While much-praised by critics, Love on the Dole was not a popular success. Perhaps the memories were all too raw for the now employed and much-needed labourers, or perhaps in bleak times people simply preferred to escape into comedy or romance.

Simon Baker

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Video Clips
1. Better things (3:06)
2. A talk with the dead (4:58)
3. Plans undone (3:40)
4. Making a stand (3:50)
Complete film (1:34:14)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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Baxter, John (1896-1975)
Comfort, Lance (1908-1966)
Griffith, Kenneth (1921-2006)
Kerr, Deborah (1921-2007)
Slater, John (1916-1975)
Social Problem Films
Social Realism