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Way We Live, The (1946)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Way We Live, The (1946)
35mm, 64 min, black & white
DirectorJill Craigie
Production CompanyTwo Cities Films
Screenplay Jill Craigie
CinematographyLaurie Friedman
MusicGordon Jacob

Cast: Peter Willes (Tom, a writer), Francis Lunt (George Copperwheat), Verena Chaffe (Mrs Copperwheat), Patsy Scantlebury (Alice Copperwheat), June Riddolls (Patricia Copperwheat)

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Plans for rebuilding Plymouth after World War Two using the Watson-Abercrombie town-planning system, as told by a visiting journalist and through the experiences of a local family made homeless by the bombing.

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Like many of her contemporaries, Jill Craigie was concerned about the reconstruction of Britain after World War Two. Visiting the heavily bombed city of Plymouth, she discovered that many local people were confused by the proposed scheme for rebuilding their town, and decided to make a film to clarify the planning issues and provide a platform for the townspeople, particularly women, to contribute their ideas about housing.

J. Arthur Rank agreed to finance The Way We Live (1946) through his subsidiary Two Cities Films, but Rank's accountant John Davis tried to halt production in mid-shoot because he felt the subject matter was insufficiently commercial. Craigie successfully appealed to Rank on the grounds that the Plymouth residents were praising him and the City Council supported her.

The film is told through the eyes of a bombed-out family; Craigie didn't want to impose her own opinions on the film. She saw herself as an interpreter of the ideas of the architects, the town councillors and the people of Plymouth, as is evident in the procession sequence which closes the film. Amazingly, Craigie mobilised three thousand people to take part.

Reactions to the film were mixed, partly because of initially unsympathetic distribution. Trial runs were booked at cinemas traditionally hostile to documentary or 'serious' films; it was reportedly booed at one East End cinema. However, after one film critic began championing the film it was released nationwide. In Plymouth, the film broke all box-office records and, as one local observer put it, "revived the interest of the man in the street in what is to be done to erase the scar which lies across our city."

The film reflects the optimism of post-war Britain; like Kay Mander's Homes for the People (1945), it places the future in the hands of the people as well as the bureaucrats and politicians. In this and her later film, Blue Scar (1949), Craigie combined the orthodox documentary style with a dramatic narrative and cast local people in the main roles. She refused to compromise her feminist and political ideals - both films espouse socialist viewpoints and examine their issues from a female perspective.

Sarah Easen

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Video Clips
1. A new Plymouth (2:33)
2. Mothers' meeting (2:26)
3. Spirit of the past (1:15)
4. The plan (2:49)
5. The pros and the antis (1:16)
6. The election (1:19)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Craigie, Jill (1911-1999)
Two Cities Films
Women Non-Fiction Filmmakers 1930-1960