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Sparrows Can't Sing (1962)


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!

Charlie Gooding returns to the East End of London after two years working abroad as a merchant seaman, and immediately sets about looking for his wife Maggie. He is surprised to find that the house they had shared has been demolished to make way for a new high-rise development, but is told by neighbours that Maggie may be staying at her sister's house. What everyone knows but no-one dare tell Charlie is that Maggie is sharing a council flat in another block with Bert, a bus driver. Finding only immigrants at the address he has been given, and getting suspiciously evasive answers from the bakery where Maggie works, Charlie heads for his mother's house.

Living with Charlie's mother are her other son Fred, his wife Bridgie and daughter Nellie, and Jack, an elderly lodger. Nellie is toying with the affections of two suitors, Georgie and Chunky, unable to choose between them but enjoying the attention. Bridgie sends her daughter to bring Maggie to the Red Lion pub, where Charlie, accompanied by a nervous Fred, will be waiting. Charlie threatens violence if his wife fails to appear. Nellie sets off with Georgie in his car from work, pursued by Chunky on his bike.

Forewarned of Charlie's return, Maggie waits at her flat with Bert and her toddler daughter Christabel, and is initially reluctant to answer the door to Nellie. She agrees to meet Charlie at the pub, but doesn't tell Bert. While Georgie fetches his illegally parked car from the tow-yard, Maggie leaves Christabel outside the pub with Nellie and Chunky while she meets her husband. Their encounter is friendly but they are frank about their troubled marriage: Charlie bemoaning the unexpected appearance of Maggie's son by an earlier relationship, and Maggie reminds Charlie of his infidelities and physical abuse. However, she doesn't mention Bert. As she leaves, she flirtily suggests they meet again at 6pm that evening.

When the pub closes for the afternoon, the slightly drunken crowd that had gathered disperses. After continuing at another drinking club, Charlie chances upon Maggie, whose uncertainty about her loyalties has led to her leaving work at the bakery in a fit of pique. She initially pretends that she is minding Christabel for someone else but finally admits to Charlie that the child is his. Encouraged by this revelation and eager to set up home with Maggie again, Charlie buys a suite of bedroom furniture, has it transported to his mother's house and proceeds to evict Jack, along with his beloved pigeons, from his lodgings.

Bert, suffering from a cold, decides to take sick leave from his bus driving shift, and Maggie is forced to tell him that Charlie has returned, before leaving for her 6 o'clock rendezvous. Wandering through a park and reminiscing about past escapades, Charlie and Maggie reaffirm their affection for each other, although Maggie is still hesitant. Along with almost everyone else, they end up at the Iron Bridge pub, run by landlady Queenie. Georgie's onstage singing elicits a mixed response and is eclipsed by the enthusiasm that greets Eve, Queen of the Strippers. Despite his cold, Bert also turns up, only to be informed by a suddenly resolute Maggie that he is not, as he had thought, Christabel's father.

Bert's anger at his mistreatment sparks off a brawl that results in the evacuation of the pub, Nellie leaving hand-in-hand with both Georgie and Chunky. Sanguine about her wrecked pub, Queenie consoles Bert, who resolves to go back to his own wife. Maggie and Charlie wander off together, bickering.