I've never been a big fan of war films, of which there were understandably many in the 1940s and 50s. Possibly because it was my grandparents who instilled in me a love of old British cinema - and they may have avoided some films that dug out old memories that were best left unstirred.
Laid up ill one day, with no energy to do anything else, I switched on Film4 to be greeted by a film called 'The Gift Horse'. If my conjecture about my grandparents is correct, this would definitely have been off the list. Its subject matter is a British naval ship during WW2, and my Great Uncle Joe, having being torpedoed on the HMS Prince of Wales in 1941, was always much missed. But as the cast list included favourites such as Dora Bryan, Sid James and Richard Attenborough, I watched on. The film basically follows the crew of the ship - nicknamed the gift horse as it was a piece of equipment donated by the US navy. It certainly doesn't pull any punches concerning the fate of many sailors in the war. The crew either end up dead or captured by the closing titles. It also brings home the speed at which life had to be lived during those dark days of the early 1940s.
It was interesting to compare life as depicted in the film with a debate that I had been listening to on Radio 4's Today programme a few days previous to watching. We are now having children much later in life, and various reasons were given as to why this is. The difficulty in meeting potential partners, the desire to be settled and to have made headway in a career were all put forward as valid points. However, in 'The Gift Horse', marriages are made in haste, almost desperation. Dora Bryan's character is railroaded into marriage and pregnancy (despite her misgivings) by a sailor desperate to leave his mark on the world. These days there are no bombs aimed at us on a daily basis and fewer diseases to kill us early. We don't have the same pressure to continue our line. Life is comfortable and children can be detrimental to this comfort! Neither Dora or her sailor made it to the end of the film, one being bombed and the other shot. They were right to grab happiness while they could after all. I wonder how many people watching the film on its release in 1952 were at that moment repenting their wartime haste? Judging by the divorce statistics it was quite a few ( see http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_246403.pdf and look for the spike in the chart!). We are perhaps right to take our time.