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Simon and Laura (1955)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Simon and Laura (1955)
35mm, 91 minutes, colour
DirectorMuriel Box
Production CompanyGroup Film Productions
ProducerTeddy Baird
ScreenplayPeter Blackmore
From the play byAlan Melville
CinematographyErnest Steward
MusicBenjamin Frankel

Cast: Peter Finch (Simon Foster); Kay Kendall (Laura Foster); Muriel Pavlow (Janet Honeyman); Hubert Gregg (Bernie Burton); Maurice Denham (Wilson)

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A divorcing couple become stars of a television soap opera.

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In 1955, the British film industry faced a new threat. Television had experienced a boom year in 1953 and was welcoming a new independent channel that, free from many of the restrictions of public sector broadcasting, was determinedly populist. The industry reacted to the competition in several ways, developing widescreen and 3D formats, and increasing the sophistication of its colour and sound technology. Simon and Laura takes a more direct route: it attacks the similar, but allegedly inferior, medium of television through a farce about a divorcing couple learning to live with each another. The metaphor is simple but perfect.

At every opportunity the film delights in exposing television's cheap production techniques. The infant television world, summarised in Ian Carmichael's caricatured whiz kid David Prentice, is constantly contrasted with the professionalism of the film industry. Note how the small black and white TV transmissions are always contrasted to the Vistavision and vibrant Technicolor of the 'real' filmic world. Elsewhere, critic Gilbert Harding indulges in a cameo outlining the aesthetic and psychological dangers of appearing on television.

The film attempts to expose the myth of democracy that television promises. The British public can be found in the menagerie of errant animals, acrobats, and prizewinners glimpsed throughout the film, but all are figures of fun. Simon and Laura Foster, a professional couple who choose to appear on the new medium, struggle to balance reality with their fictional selves - the main joke rests on the fact that everything is fake, from their re-created home to their supposed happy relationship. It is only during the Christmas special - filmed on location in the Foster's actual house - that reality emerges. The live punch-up is a cathartic response to the prolonged pretence in the show. Typically, the film has a most apt punch line: the quarrel forces ratings to soar.

Behind the scenes, Oscar winners Carmen Dillon and Julie Harris created designs that accentuate the heart of the movie. Dillon's opulent open plan staircase and Harris' modern outfits summarise the elegant but practical lifestyles of the characters. Reviews of the film on its first release noted a unique feminine angle. This is attributable in part to the great performances by Kay Kendall and Muriel Pavlow, but credit must also be given to the graceful direction and timely editing of Muriel Box and Jean Barker, who give the film a narrative fluidity essential with such potentially acerbic material.

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
1. Simon and Laura (0:42)
2. Gilbert Harding (1:27)
3. The First Night (3:52)
4. The Christmas Show (6:01)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Vision, The (1988)
Box, Muriel (1905-1991)
Carmichael, Ian (1920-2010)
Denham, Maurice (1909-2002)
Field, Shirley Anne (1938-)
Finch, Peter (1916-1977)
Harding, Gilbert (1907-1960)
Harris, Julie (1921-)
Hawtrey, Charles (1914-1988)
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)
Kendall, Kay (1927-1959)
Parsons, Nicholas (1928-)