The people at Milestone are continuing their tradition of releasing
high quality silent movies. They've released some big name films
like Phantom of the Opera, It, and the works of Windsor McKay
and Mary Pickford, but they also release some excellent lesser known silent
gems. One film that fits into that category is their newest release,
Maurice Elvey's Hindle Wakes.
Fanny Hawthorne works in the large cotton mill in Hindle, like her father
and most of the town. Once a year the factory closes for a week (the
'Wake' of the title) and the employees all head off to some vacation spot
to blow off some steam. This year Fanny and her friend Mary go off
to Blackpoole, the English equivalent of Coney Island.
There the girls meet a couple of guys, and Fanny ends up spending the
day with Allan Jeffcote, the son of the mill owner. At the end of
the evening, Mary fends off the advances of her fella, but Fanny doesn't
come back to their hotel. The next morning she shows up and tells
Mary that she and Allan are going to go off by themselves for the rest
of the week.
Unfortunately, Mary suffers a fatal accident while Fanny is gone, and
this leads her parents to discover that she hasn't been in Blackpool all
week. When it is revealed that Fanny was with the rich mill owner's
son her mother's eyes light up envisioning the riches they'll have if they
can brow-beat Allan into marrying Fanny. The mill owner, Allan, and
Fanny's parents all put their heads together to decide what Fanny's fate
is going to be and who she will marry. They didn't think that Fanny
would have an opinion on the matter, but it turns out that she does.
When I first heard about this film, soon before Milestone released it,
I thought it sounded like a typical silent melodrama. British films
from this era don't have a very good reputation, and most of them are plodding,
dull affairs. Of course there are some exceptions, Hitchcock's silent
films spring to mind, but as a whole they pale in comparison to American
and German films made at the same time. So I approached this film
with some fairly low expectations. I was very surprised. Not
only was this a good movie, it was immensely enjoyable on several levels.
Taken just at face value, Hindle Wakes is a well made and interesting
film. The movie doesn't try to pull at your heart strings or act
melodramatic, though it would be very easy to do so. The opening
scenes in the factory show that the people there work hard, but it isn't
portrayed as a horrible sweat-shop. The scenes where Fanny's parents
confront her are also realistic and not overblown. The mother doesn't
put the back of her hand to her head and faint, she yells at her daughter.
The movie also has some very interesting social commentary. Allan
isn't disgraced because he had an affair. It is looked upon as an
inconvenient problem by most people. Even his father dismisses his
actions by saying that Allan is just a decedent from Adam. Fanny,
on the other hand, is a fallen woman, someone who has to get married or
live in disgrace. This double standard is examined, and the film
has some surprising things to say about it considering it was made in 1927.
It is also interesting to note that the girl who is virtuous, Mary, ends
The acting is very good, and doesn't have the over-dramatic style that
many silent dramas had. When Allan's fiancee, Beatrice, was told
of his affair, the camera focuses in on her face as she slowly breaks down.
She doesn't rend her clothes or swoon, her face just crumples as she starts
One of the reasons I enjoy silent film is because it gives you a window
to the past. I really like street scenes where you can see how people
dressed and how they behaved. A fair portion of this film takes place
at Blackpool, and there is a lot of footage of the rides and attractions.
It was interesting to see what an amusement park in the year years of the
20th century looked like. The director even mounted the camera in
the front car of a roller coaster and some of the other rides to give you
a bird's eye view of what the ride was like. There are also several
scenes inside an actual cotton mill, showing people shoveling coal into
hungry furnaces and operating the huge machines that turn the cotton into
thread. This gives the film the feel of a documentary which really
adds to the realism of the picture.
I was very impressed with director Maurice Elvey's style. This
movie was based on a stage play, but the film isn't locked down to a handful
of sets the way plays often are. His on location filming and a lot
to the quality of the movie, but the way he told the story was very effective
too. Elvey used few intertitles, with most of the action being self
explanatory. It was interesting to note though that some of the language
used in the intertitles is archaic, and I expect that it was for the time
too. "...yon's a gradely lass." isn't something that you hear often
This DVD has two audio tracks. The first is an arrangement by
the group "In the Nursery" and the second is a solo piano score composed
and preformed by Philip Carli. I viewed the movie with both tracks,
alternating between the two every 10-15 minutes or so. I thought
that both tracks had their strong points and their weaknesses and enjoyed
The soundtrack by In the Nursery is very good. Though purist will
decry the use of synthesizers, I quite enjoyed the full rich sound that
was produced, similar to a full orchestra. Their composition had
a melancholy feel to most of it that fit the film well. There were
a few scenes where I didn't feel the music meshed with the film though.
The scene where Fanny's parents confront their daughter about spending
the week with a man has a slow sad tone to it, where I thought energetic
and angry music would have mimicked the emotions in the movie better.
Other scenes sounded suberb though. The dance hall scene was accompanied
by a dixie-land jazz type tune playing that really energized the scene.
This audio track also added some sound effects, factory whistles blowing
and knocks at doors, that help bring the movie to life.
I'll admit that I have a preference for orchestral scores over a single
piano, but Carli did a good job scoring this film. The music wasn't
as melancholy as the In the Nursery score and didn't have as full a sound
either. It did fit the movie well though, and piano score had a more
traditional feel to it, more like something you could have heard back in
Both tracks were very clear and clean, with no audio defects.
Both tracks are very good and enhance the movie quite a bit.
The print used for this transfer was recently restored by the British
Film Institute and looks wonderful. The contrast is excellent, and
the detail superb. You could make out the peoples reflections in
the highly polished table at the Jeffcote's house and the texture of the
bricks that make up Fanny's small apartment. The print isn't perfect,
there are light scratches, some spots on the print and a rare missing frame
or two, but it still looks much better than I was expecting it to. Milestone
does another excellent job with this disc.
This disc also includes three still galleries. There is one of
production photos from the film, the original press kit from 1927, and
a series of photos from a 1912 production of the play. In addition
to these, there are two DVD-Rom features that can be accessed from a computer:
The Milestone Press Kit and an article about the play by anarchist Emma
Goldman, who praised the film upon its release.
Normally, I wouldn't have bought this DVD. Though I really like
silent film, melodramas don't do a lot for me and this one sounded pretty
sappy. I was terribly mistaken though. This surprising film
never becomes melodramatic and has some very interesting location shots.
The story itself is very good too, and held my attention throughout the
movie's two hour length. Hindle Wakes is a little know silent
gem that is well worth picking up. Highly Recommended.