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Blighty (1927)

Courtesy of Moving Image Communications

Main image of Blighty (1927)
35mm, black and white, silent, 8397 feet
DirectorAdrian Brunel
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerCarlyle Blackwell
 Michael Balcon
Original storyIvor Montagu
ScriptEliot Stannard
PhotographyJack Cox

Cast: Ellaline Terriss (Lady Villiers); Godfrey Winn (Robin Villiers); Jameson Thomas (Marshall); Lilian Hall-Davis (Ann Villiers); Nadia Sibirskaïa (the girl)

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On the outbreak of the First World War, Robin Villiers, only son of a wealthy family, and Marshall, the family chauffeur, both enlist. Robin is killed in action, while Marshall, sent home injured, falls in love with the Villiers' daughter.

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Blighty (1927), made for Michael Balcon's Gainsborough Pictures, was Adrian Brunel's first feature film since 1923's independently-financed The Man Without Desire. In the interim, Brunel had made two low-budget parodies, Crossing the Great Sagrada (1924) and The Pathetic Gazette (1924), which had resulted in a contract to produce a further five burlesques for Gainsborough. One of these films, So This is Jolly Good (1925), laments the state of British production, and Brunel consequently jumped at the offer to direct a commercial feature film of his own.

Brunel's enthusiasm for the project was slightly tempered by the fact it was to be a war film, a genre he objected to for moral reasons and had little faith in commercially. However, with his friend and fellow Film Society member Ivor Montagu devising the story, and Eliot Stannard (who was credited with most of Alfred Hitchcock's silent screenplays) writing the scenario, Brunel was able to create a thoughtful, rather than jingoistic, depiction of life during the First World War.

Blighty forsakes depictions of battle, focusing instead on the impact the war has on the lives of the wealthy Villiers family. Class barriers are broken down as chauffeur Marshall (Jameson Thomas) enlists in the army, rises through the ranks and then falls in love with Ann Villiers (Lilian Hall Davies). The family lose their son Robin (Godfrey Winn), who is killed on the Front, but gain a grandson and a daughter-in-law, the latter played by the luminously beautiful Nadia Sibirskaïa. She had impressed Brunel and Montagu with her work in Dimitri Kirsanoff's feature Ménilmontant (France, 1924), and as Robin's continental bride, she strikes an incongruous note among rest of the sturdy British cast, particularly the dignified and maternal Ellaline Terriss.

With Blighty, Brunel felt he had achieved a satisfactory compromise between his conception of good cinema and that of his Gainsborough employers. With the casting of Sibirskaïa and his skilful use of intercutting (particularly during the air raid when the telegram announcing Robin's death arrives), Brunel enriches his patriotic British story with the type of internationally-aware filmmaking championed by critics such as fellow Film Society member Iris Barry. Blighty would prove to be Brunel's most positive experience with Gainsborough; later features such as The Vortex (1928) and The Constant Nymph (1928) were subject to increasing studio interference.

Nathalie Morris

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Video Clips
Balcon, Michael (1896-1977)
Brunel, Adrian (1892-1958)
Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Hall-Davis, Lilian (1897-1933)
Montagu, Ivor (1904-1984)
Thomas, Jameson (1888-1939)