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Piccadilly Incident (1946)

Courtesy of Canal+ Image UK ltd

Main image of Piccadilly Incident (1946)
35mm, 102 min, black & white
DirectorHerbert Wilcox
Production CompanyABPC
Produced byHerbert Wilcox
ScenarioNicholas Phipps
CinematographyMax Greene
EditorFlora Newton
Musical DirectorAnthony Collins

Cast: Anna Neagle (Diana Fraser); Michael Wilding (Captain Alan Pearson); Frances Mercer (Joan Draper); Michael Laurence (Bill Weston); Coral Browne (Virginia Pearson)

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1941. A newly married WREN, presumed drowned when her ship is torpedoed, spends three years on a tropical island before returning to England to find her husband remarried with a baby son.

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Hasty marriages were a feature of WW2. Couples were married then often separated for long periods, not knowing whether they would meet again. Daily blackouts, bombing raids and wartime restrictions were the order of the day. In Piccadilly Incident, emotionally charged scenes between Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding take place against blackouts and the sound of bombs. Each word spoken could be their last, which heightens the intensity.

Diversions in the film (very much representing musical fashions of the era) include a five-minute ballet, 'Boogie Woogie Moonshine', devised by Wendy Toye, with Neagle as the star turn (of course), and 'Piccadilly 1944' (a composition by Vivian Ellis in the 'Denham Concerto' style), which is played by Wilding at the emotional peak of the film. Ever since Dangerous Moonlight (d. Brian Desmond Hurst, 1941), the troubled romantic hero would go to the piano stool at a time of emotional crisis, and this film is no exception. Several popular songs of the period are also featured.

This melodrama was the second most successful film of 1946 at the box office, after The Wicked Lady (d. Leslie Arliss, 1945). Godfrey Winn wrote that 'In Piccadilly Incident is born the greatest team in British Films'. It made a star of Michael Wilding, due to his good looks and profile, his sensitivity, an ability to convey romantic longing, and his affectation of a courtly demeanour (a resemblance to Earl Mountbatten of Burma did him no harm). This image is reinforced by his Piccadilly apartment, complete with butler and housekeeper, and a family stately home. And Anna Neagle proved once and for all to any doubters that she could really act, ranging from conventional glamour in the early scenes, sexual tension in the scenes with Bill, shed of all glamour in the island rescue, and the real electric charge of the final encounter, when she neurotically says "don't touch me!" It is not surprising that this emotional roller-coaster of a film led to queues round the block at ABC cinemas in 1946 and led to audience awards from both the Daily Mail (1946) and Picturegoer (1947).

But Wilcox clearly felt that audiences needed to have a moral sermon from a judge to top and tail the film, explaining that the child will always remain illegitimate for inheritance purposes. The somewhat pedantic obsession with legitimacy seems alien to 21st Century viewers.

Roger Philip Mellor

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Video Clips
1. The proposal (4:39)
2. The return (6:50)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Browne, Coral (1913-1991)
Moore, Roger (1927-)
Neagle, Anna (1904-1986)
Toye, Wendy (1917-2010)
Wilcox, Herbert (1890-1977)