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Loves of Joanna Godden, The (1947)


Main image of Loves of Joanna Godden, The (1947)
35mm, 89 min, black & white
DirectorCharles Frend
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScreenplayH.E. Bates
Original novel bySheila Kaye-Smith
ComposerVaughan Williams

Cast: Googie Withers (Joanna Godden); Jean Kent (Ellen Godden); John McCallum (Arthur Alce); Derek Bond (Martin Trevor); Henry Mollison (Harry Trevor); Chips Rafferty (Collard)

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When her father dies, Joanna Godden surprises all when she decides to run his farm herself. But her determination and strong will prove a burden as well as an asset, and meanwhile she risks losing the man she truly loves.

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In 1936, when he was studio boss of Gaumont-British, Michael Balcon suggested that the British film industry should explore home-grown themes, presenting "the life of the farmer on the fells of the North, of the industrial worker in the Midlands, of the factory girls of London's new industrial areas, of the quiet shepherds of Sussex". Ten years later, at Ealing, he gave the 'quiet shepherds' their chance in this period drama, starring Googie Withers as a headstrong young Edwardian woman who inherits her father's sheep-farm on Romney Marsh and, to the scandal of the local farming community, insists on running the place herself.

Graced with one of Ralph Vaughan Williams' lesser-known scores, Joanna Godden makes fine sweeping use of its Romney locations, courtesy of Douglas Slocombe's cinematography, making the occasional studio-shot 'exterior' glare out all the more blatantly. The script's adapted from a novel by Sheila Kaye-Smith, a prolific middlebrow writer who specialised in sub-Hardyesque Sussex-set novels - indeed, the plot unashamedly rips off Far from the Madding Crowd.

At first it seems that the film may be taking a feminist stance, with Joanna defying the hidebound male farming establishment by not only running her own farm but embarking on a bold cross-breeding experiment. But any feminist implications are soon undermined. The cross-breeding goes disastrously wrong, putting paid to an incipient relationship with her shepherd Collard (Chips Rafferty, playing non-Australian for once), and gradually Joanna's options are closed down one by one, finally propelling her - in a jarringly abrupt ending - into the arms of her childhood sweetheart Arthur Alce, the neighbouring farmer who's been telling her from the start she needs a man running things.

The pairing of Withers and John McCallum anticipates that of It Always Rains on Sunday (d. Robert Hamer), made later the same year, and the last of Withers' six films for Ealing. As Charles Barr has pointed out, her departure from the studio virtually marks the end of strong, independent-minded female roles in Ealing's output - although it's noticeable, in the films she did make at Ealing, how often her strength is boxed in and curtailed as it is here. Her role in Joanna Godden is contrasted with that of her flighty, spoilt younger sister Ellen, who first ensnares and marries Arthur, then coolly dumps him for a rich older man. Dutifully supportive wives apart, admirable female role-models are none too common in Ealing films.

Philip Kemp

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Video Clips
1. The future of the farm (2:15)
2. A disastrous experiment (1:37)
3. New ideas (2.18)
4. A new understanding (4.04)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Frend, Charles (1909-1977)
Withers, Googie (1917-2011)