Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Milestone Film & Video continues to surprise us with forgotten treasures on DVD. The 1927
Hindle Wakes is a superior silent English drama with excellent production values and a
remarkably liberated theme. A forbidden affair between two young people is soon discovered,
resulting in the expected harsh reactions, recriminations and demands for a quick marriage. But
the young woman's personal decision takes everyone by surprise.
Young Fanny Hawthorne and Mary Hollins (Estelle Brody and Peggy Carlisle) live
in the Lancashire town of Hindle and work in the mill owned by the Jeffcoate family. Fanny's
father Chris (Humberston Wright) didn't partner with Nat Jeffcoate (Norman McKinnell) as a
young man, so now must live on modest means while the wealthy Nat indulges his son Allan
(John Stuart). "Wakes Week" is a traditional mill town holiday and the girls are eager
to go to Blackpool, a seaside resort. Allan Jeffcoate bids farewell to his fiancée
Beatrice Farrar (Gladys Jennings) and heads for Blackpool as well. Their marriage will
mean not only a merger between mills, but also a partnership for Allan. A holiday
flirtation between Fanny and Allan becomes a serious fling, and everyone's plans are
upset when a tragedy brings their brief affair - what Fanny calls a "little fancy," to
the attention of their families.
I've only heard of Maurice Elvey in reviews of his 1929 talkie High Treason, a political
science fiction movie about a futuristic England. Hindle Wakes is a superior drama with
subtleties of theme and character unexpected in a silent-era film. The leading character is a
liberated and unapologetic young woman with her own ideas of sexual equality, yet she's not a flirt
or a flapper. The drama highlights the hypocrisy of the double standard and the impracticality of
forcing an unwanted marriage for the sake of social appearances.
As a narrative Hindle Wakes is as rigged as any conservative melodrama of its time.
Only old men and young women seem to have the sense needed to separate reality from outmoded
points of honor and social demands. The mothers are presented as near-monsters, condemning
their own children or trying to sweep family mistakes under the carpet. One production
still compares Fanny's mother with a stone gargoyle! The fathers are almost saintly by
comparison. Fanny's father humbly accepts his diminished position in life, while Allan's
millionaire father is so ethical, he's willing to chuck the future of his industrial
dynasty to do right by the lowly foreman who was once his equal. I'd be more willing to
believe that the rich man would have broken off with his old friend a long time before,
just so he wouldn't have to be reminded of the inequity in their lives.
Fanny moves toward a personal decision to leave family ties behind, proving herself an
independent soul, an English version of Nora in A Doll's House. For her the affair was
a few days of happiness that don't need further complications. Her decision not only
lets Allan off the hook - for an opposite viewpoint, consider the treatment given the same
situation in James M. Cain's hardboiled
Mildred Pierce - it doesn't
take into consideration other possibilities, like pregnancy. In a modern story, the entire idea of
sneaking off together for a rendezvous wouldn't become an issue until biology took the upper hand.
Fanny's parents will really be the only ones to suffer, mainly because her mother foolishly
spreads the shameful news. Fanny simply moves out and continues working. Other stories set around
this time (Carousel,
Carrie) imply that working
girls could routinely lose their jobs over gossip about loose living, but not Fanny.
The real winner is Allan's fiancée Beatrice. She returns his ring, doing "the right thing" in
the old-fashioned etiquette books, and lucks out when he comes running back. Now Allan will carry a mark
of guilt that Beatrice can exploit whenever necessary. The story boldly attacks the idea of the
double standard, but leaves the rest of society's puritan foundations intact.
It's interesting that Fanny's parents never charge her with responsibility for the death of her
sweet neighbor Mary. Allan and Fanny's deception is found out when Mary drowns, taking Fanny's
alibi with her.
We would expect that to set up a typically moralistic guilt-trip, Fanny would be held accountable
for Mary's death because she was off in a love nest with Allan. I'm surprised that neither of
Fanny's parents blames her for Mary's demise, on principle alone.
Hindle Wakes has been filmed many times but this silent version is considered one of the
best. Estelle Brody has the standout performance as Fanny; she remains natural and believable
amid the range of theatrical attitudes struck by the other actors. Her slightly mousy short hair
(perhaps mandated by the factory job?) makes her into a working man's dream girl, a Louise Brooks
of the assembly line.
Maurice Elvey's direction dispenses with unnecessary inter-titles and has long sequences that
rely completely on visual storytelling. At least two reels are devoted to the workings of
the textile mill and the atmosphere at the Blackpool resort, detailed observations better than
most documentaries, even counting the occasional painted view of mill chimneys or
fairground lights at night. We see an entire circuit of the "Big Dipper" roller coaster
from a passenger's point of view, as in This Is Cinerama. In a sequence that rivals
the work of King Vidor, factory life is shown in regimented visuals that concentrate on
spinning spools of fiber and hundreds of moving feet. One of the most effective shots is a
floor littered with discarded work shoes after the employees have all hurried off to their
Image and Milestone's DVD of Hindle Wakes is an excellent transfer of a mostly fine restoration by
the British Film Institute. Many scenes - the lonely cobbled street where Fanny lives, the shot of an
endless number of dancers at the giant Blackpool ballroom - are especially remarkable for being
in such good shape. We're given a choice of musical accompaniments, a traditional score played by
Philip Carli, and a modernist take by In The Nursery.
Extras include a still gallery, a copy of the press booklet and some
stills from a 1912 stage version of the play. Milestone's scholarly press kit appears as a DVD-ROM
extra, along with an article by the famous anarchist Emma Goldman. She loved the play's endorsement
of a woman's right to the same sexual freedom enjoyed by men.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Hindle Wakes rates:
Video: Very Good
Supplements: Still, presskit, DVD-ROM article by Emma Goldman
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 17, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson