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Frieda (1947)


Main image of Frieda (1947)
35mm, 98 mins, black & white
DirectorBasil Dearden
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScreenplayAngus MacPhail
 Ronald Millar
Original playRonald Millar
MusicJohn Greenwood

Cast: David Farrar (Robert Dawson); Mai Zetterling (Frieda Dawson); Flora Robson (Eleanor 'Nell' Dawson); Glynis Johns (Judy Dawson)

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When an RAF officer returns to his small English town with a German bride, and discovers that for many wartime attitudes are hard to shift.

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Right from the credits, John Greenwood's portentous score tells us that this is Ealing in its serious, social-problem tackling mode. As usual when Ealing has a social problem to be tackled, the studio turns to the reliable producer-director team of Michael Relph and Basil Dearden. And as so often with Ealing films of this sort, what begins as an honest attempt to confront the problem ends up somewhat fudged.

The film's theme can be summed up by the title of Noël Coward's 1943 hit, 'Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans'. But while Coward was being heavily sarcastic, Frieda is entirely serious. In the final year of WW2 a British airman marries the German girl who helped him escape from a POW camp and brings her home to meet his stolid middle-class family. Will they - and by implication, British society - come to accept this representative of the Herrenvolk?

Predictably, they will, after only a brief interlude of being beastly, since Frieda is young, pretty and biddable, with a name derived from Friede, peace. (And played by a non-German: the Swedish Mai Zetterling making her English-language debut.) With her in-laws and their small-town neighbours all succumbing to her charm - the only hold-out being her husband's aunt, Nell, a newly-elected Labour MP - something is needed to stop the film fizzling out in all-round bland benevolence. To break this stasis enter Frieda's brother Richard, a ranting, stubbornly unredeemed Nazi, and with his arrival the story spirals downwards into melodrama.

Matters are further skewed by making Robert, Frieda's husband, insensitive almost to the point of stupidity - or malice. He seems to go out of his way to place her in uncomfortable situations, and precipitates the final crisis by unhesitatingly accepting the word of her fanatic brother over that of his wife. It's this that drives her to attempt suicide; but he valiantly rescues her, after which all problems - it's implied - have been solved, and we're duly given the moral: "You can't treat human beings as though they were less than human without becoming less than human yourself."

The film's muddled liberalism is partly redeemed, though, by its picture of Middle England tentatively setting out to heal the traumas of the war; by Zetterling's appealing performance, and those of Flora Robson as the steely MP and Glynis Johns as a sympathetic sister-in-law; and, midway through, by an unexpected Soviet-style montage of happy agricultural labour.

Philip Kemp

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Video Clips
1. Heading home (1:18)
2. A nation's responsibility (2:30)
3. Helping on the farm (1:25)
4. Family differences (3:52)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Banes, Lionel (1904-1996)
Dearden, Basil (1911-1971)
Farrar, David (1908-1995)
Johns, Glynis (1923-)
Letts, Barry (1925-2009)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Norman, Leslie (1911-1993)
Relph, Michael (1915-2004)
Robson, Flora (1902-1984)
Zetterling, Mai (1925-1994)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
Ealing at War
Social Problem Films