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Miracle in Soho (1957)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Miracle in Soho (1957)
35mm, colour, 98 minutes
Directed byJulian Amyes
Production CompanyRank Organisation Film Productions
Produced byEmeric Pressburger
Written byEmeric Pressburger
PhotographyChristopher Challis
MusicBrian Easdale

Cast: John Gregson (Michael Morgan); Belinda Lee (Julia Gozzi); Cyril Cusack (Sam Bishop); Peter Illing (Papa Gozzi); Rosalie Crutchley (Mafalda Gozzi); Ian Bannen (Filippo Gozzi)

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The arrival of workmen on a small Soho street has unexpected implications for the daughter of an Italian family about to emigrate to Canada.

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Originally titled 'The Miracle in St Anthony's Lane', the screenplay for this playful slice of poetic realism was written by Emeric Pressburger in 1934. Despite constant re-selling during the 1930s, the script sat in the writer's touting suitcase until 22 years later, when its production marked the beginning of Pressburger's final split with Michael Powell. As such, Miracle in Soho occupies an odd position in the history of British cinema, of interest because of the history of its author, but regarded a failure for the same reason.

In fact, its premise - ordinary events infused with miraculous overtones - probably suffers because of the script's years of redundancy. The film's evocation of Soho was outdated by 1957, too studio-bound and art-directed to capture the multi-ethnic authenticity it wanted. The huge sets, designed by Oscar-winning Carmen Dillon, complemented Pressburger's view of the magic that appears in everyday life, but in a climate increasingly dominated by social realism, the street looked stilted and fake.

Despite this, and its frivolity, Pressburger's script depicts a communal Soho that would soon be submerged beneath its growing reputation as a centre of vice and exotica. Characters are presented either through their familial relationships or their success in finding togetherness. This is most clearly dramatised in the love between Julia and Michael, but it encompasses all. However, beyond the concept of physical unity, the script hints at a spiritual bonding that would take those more familiar with Soho's brash vulgarity completely by surprise.

The spiritual 'miracle' that the film celebrates is not as innocent as it seems, and the film is further complicated by the Methodist J. Arthur Rank's attempt to appeal to a Catholic audience, at a time when the international market was increasingly vital to the Rank Organisation. The wide diversity of nationalities in the film, and particularly the concentration on the Gozzis, also reflects the profitable Italian and foreign markets which Rank was seeking to reach.

Although it may seem bizarre that the blonde, athletic Belinda Lee - from Budleigh Salterton, Devon - should be chosen to play the naïve and devout Italian, Julia, the conservatism she displays in the role is shrewd marketing. It is ironic in light of Lee's developing career that, in the years that followed this film, Italian audiences would embrace her in considerably less conservative roles.

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
1. A little foreign island (3:42)
2. Julia's prayer (5:46)
3. The miracle (2:20)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
'Beat' Girl (1959)
Bannen, Ian (1928-1999)
Challis, Christopher (1919-)
Cusack, Cyril (1910-1993)
Easdale, Brian (1909-1995)
Harris, Julie (1921-)
Lamont, Peter (1929-)
Lee, Belinda (1935-1961)
Pressburger, Emeric (1902-1988)
Whitelaw, Billie (1932-)