Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)


Main image of Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)
35mm, black and white, 89 mins
DirectorRobert Hamer
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScriptDiana Morgan
Original PlayRoland Pertwee
CinematographyRichard S. Pavey

Cast: Googie Withers (Pearl Bond); Mervyn Johns (Edward Sutton); Gordon Jackson (David Sutton); John Carol (Dan Powell); Sally Ann Howes (Peggy Sutton)

Show full cast and credits

A young chemist's son, rebelling against his strict father, finds himself inadvertantly wrapped up in murder and blackmail.

Show full synopsis

In his first directorial credit, the 'Haunted Mirror' sequence of Dead of Night (co-d. with Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, 1945), Robert Hamer gleefully depicted the torment of a pair of smug middle-class newlyweds. His first solo feature film also exposes the dark side of bourgeois family life.

Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945) explores the clash between two very different worlds in Victorian Brighton: the privileged, pious household of respected chemist and Public Analyst Edward Sutton (Mervyn Johns), who rules his family with self-righteous cruelty, and the seedy underworld occupied by pub landlord's wife Pearl (Googie Withers, who had been the wife in the 'Haunted Mirror'), her brutal, alcoholic husband, Joe (Garry Marsh), and her lover, minor villain Dan (John Carol).

Sutton's eldest son David (Gordon Jackson) stumbles naively into this twilight world, an act of adolescent rebellion after his stern father has crushed his hopes of marrying his sister's friend Mary. He quickly becomes smitten with the glamorous, street-smart Pearl, who tolerates his puppy love with detached amusement. It is David who comes upon Pearl after a particularly violent argument with Joe, and takes her to the chemist shop to treat her cut hand. Childishly boasting about the chemicals on the shelves, he unwittingly inspires Pearl to murder her husband when he reveals that the symptoms of strychnine poisoning are barely identifiable from lockjaw.

Gordon Jackson, just 22 but already something of a veteran after a series of wartime films at Ealing, is endearing as the hapless innocent David, who finds himself ensnared in murder and blackmail, and Mervyn Johns makes an imposing patriarch. But the film belongs to Googie Withers, whose performance conveys the complex mix of manipulativeness, vulnerability and defiance of an unhappy woman driven to desperate ends by abuse and betrayal.

Hamer admitted that he "enjoyed the melodrama but never felt happy with the domestic charm", and it shows: the film is more convincing when following Pearl and her hopelessly besotted suitor David through the pubs and pie shops of working-class Brighton than in the sterile, starched Sutton household.

Hamer's inability to integrate these two worlds, and an unsatisfying ending, mean the film is fascinating but uneven. However, Hamer would fulfil his early promise with his next two films, It Always Rains on Sunday (1947, again with Withers) and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. A stern father (2:57)
2. An unwitting accessory (4:43)
Original Poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Madeleine (1949)
Hamer, Robert (1911-63)
Jackson, Gordon (1923-1990)
Johns, Mervyn (1899-1992)
Morgan, Diana (1908-1996)
Withers, Googie (1917-2011)