Thursday, 2 August 2012

Second Class (citizen) Return to Waterloo

After my little sojourn with Sykes, I'm just popping back to 'Waterloo Road' with John Mills.  Reading Jessica Mann's book, "The Fifties Mystique" just after watching this film highlighted its role in the propaganda of the time. Tilly (Joy Shelton) is verging on straying from her husband (John Mills).  We are given a reason for her dissatisfaction with her marriage.  Her husband has failed to fulfil her desire to have a family before going off to war.  She has, apparently, nothing to focus on.  It is implicit that if she were fulfilling her natural maternal urges, then she wouldn't be threatening to do unnatural things with Stewart Granger.  And towards the end of the film, she has been forgiven and there is a baby in a pram.  This is the happy ending.  The final scene sees the doctor (Alistair Sim) delivering a speech in support of children.

From our perspective this is old fashioned and sentimental.  But there is more to it than sentiment.  Jessica Mann tells us on pp 28-30 of her book:

Women had worked during the war whether they liked it or not...(But when it was all over) Not only did society need jobs for the boys on their return from war service, but the economy needed women to have time to go shopping.

And how to get them back into the home?  Play on their maternal instincts that lead to such readiness to accept guilt and to do what everyone else says is for the best.

The biological imperative seemed unanswerable...and if there is to be a nation in the future, there must be children and children mean homes and endless chores. 

Running a family and working were seen as completely incompatible. If any women out there were wavering, hankering after wages and freedom,  this film is patently designed to tell them where their place is and their true vocation.  Men are being warned that if they don't go home and impregnate their wives (or marry their girlfriends and then go straight on to fulfilling that obligation) then their women will doubtless do something wicked and it will be all their own fault!  Worrying about bringing more cannon fodder into the world, or feeding another mouth on the meagre post war rations could not be countenanced.

Alistair Sim's final speech pretty much lays it on the line.  He might as well turn to the camera and say "Come on ladies!  Fertilise an egg today!"  Unfortunately, Mann also tells us that a large proportion of this film's 1945 audience would be a bit hazy on how they should fulfil this obligation.  I doubt that particular sort of film was on the Gaumont circuit that week.

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