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Blu-ray Review: ‘Ealing Studios Collection: Vol. 1’

★★★★★

Collated for the first time on Blu-ray are three films from Britain’s Ealing Studios, each starring its most renowned star, Alec Guinness. In Kind Hearts and Coronets’ (1949), lowly sales assistant Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) reeks terrible revenge on his mother’s aristocratic relations the D’Ascoyne family (all played by Guinness), whilst The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) tells the story of Henry Holland (Guinness) an unassuming clerk at the Bank of England who plots to relieve his bosses of a small fortune. Finally in The Man in the White Suit (1951) humble inventor Henry Stratton (Guinness) creates a fibre which never gets dirty or wears out.

Determined to use his discovery for good, Henry’s employers at the factory where he works have different ideas. We live in an age where things – particularly in the arts – constantly change. Authors, actors and musicians are only as good as their next project. We are bombarded on a regular basis with so much new material that it’s easy to become complacent. Such is the case with films – so many are released that we dismiss much as inferior in the hope that something better will soon come along. As a result if and when a film emerges which stands the test of time, as fresh now as when it was first released over sixty years ago, you tend to hold onto it. Even better if it’s not just one film but – in Ealing’s case – a studio’s entire output.

If asked to decipher the secret of Ealing’s success, you could do worse than highlight the films Guinness made for them, and in particular the three StudioCanal have chosen for their first Ealing Blu-ray collection. These delights of British cinema epitomise everything good about the studio and, some would say, an age of this country’s history now sadly long gone. The public were looking for escapism during the years immediately following the Second World War and Ealing gave it to them. In films like Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit, the underdog – all working-class heroes, in two cases played by Guinness (in Kind Hearts, the role went to Dennis Price) – always comes out on top.

Supported by a vast array of British character talent including Michael Gough, Joan Greenwood and Stanley Holloway, and directed by the likes of the legendary Charles Crichton, it is really Guinness who stands out. Here you see the essence which made him a star, still remembered with fondness by fans and filmmakers alike (as seen in the introduction given by Martin Scorsese to The Lavender Hill Mob); an ability to hold the screen with his quietly understated, yet commanding presence. Little remains today of Ealing or its star player Guinness other than the images captured for posterity on film – but what wonderful memories they invoke.

Cleaver Patterson