‘The Long Memory’ (1953) stars John Mills as a man newly released from prison. He has served twelve years for a crime that we learn he did not commit. He faces his freedom with a grudge against those who lied in court and is followed closely by both a policeman (John McCallum) and a journalist (Geoffrey Keen). Mills’ character – Davidson – heads for the Kent Marshes and takes up residence on an abandoned boat. These scenes are wonderfully reminiscent of another film starring John Mills – ‘Great Expectations’. The 1946 version of the Dickens novel is the only one that I would ever consider watching, nothing else will ever live up to it. To be reminded of watching it took me back to wet Saturday afternoons with toasted teacakes. The scenes of the marshes in ‘The Long Memory’ were therefore just as delightful and comforting due to association. The camera didn’t stint on scenes of mud flats, boats steaming in and out of the estuary and waving grasses. The soundtrack too gave us the lonely calls of wetland birds, enhancing the atmosphere. I thought how wonderful, to catch the essence of the Kent Marshes on film in this way. No doubt this is now a protected landscape, but with nature you cannot keep things exactly the same. Water encroaches or recedes, wildlife succumbs or thrives on altered environments. And sometimes, our ways of protecting a landscape is to sterilise it a little – the abandoned boats and wilder human inhabitants have probably now been removed to somewhere less picturesque. But here we see it in all its post-war glory.
We also see one of my favourite actresses from this period, her talent rightly preserved on screen too. To many of my generation, she was an eternally old lady with a penchant for religious programmes. In my teens, I wrote her off as a highly uncool God-squaddie, a figure of fun. No doubt the next generation down has never even heard of her. But back in the 1950s, Thora Hird was, in my view anyway, the bees knees. This has only become apparent to me while I have been writing the History Usherette. I marvelled at her youth in ‘Went the Day Well’; laughed uproariously at her knowing comments in ‘Sailor Beware’; identified with her as Arthur Askey’s wife in ‘The Love Match’ and then boggled at the fact that she was playing Dirk Bogarde’s Mum in ‘Once a Jolly Swagman’. Thora had humour, character and a fantastic talent. But of course she wasn’t a glamour girl, so her early fame never reached the heights that it should have done. Thora often played characters that were older than her own years. This is perhaps why she did become more of a household name in the 1980s – she had spent so long preparing to be old that when she got there she was well practiced at it, and played it for all she was worth. She will be remembered by many for her role in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologue ‘A Cream Cracker Under the Settee.’ This is sad, being remembered as a lonely old woman that has fallen over, when she played so many vital and funny roles in her younger days.
|Thora by @aitchteee|
Her part in ‘The Long Memory’ is no exception. She plays a woman whose husband has “gorn orff with anovver woman” and declares it to be daft at his ripe old age of 55. So she is again an older housewife, supposedly 15 years or so older than her real age. It is a small, incidental role but she is memorable in it and brandishes the comic relief potential. She brings out the wisdom of her character, as she tackles her husband’s midlife crisis. This was all quite fascinating – I thought that midlife crises’ were a modern invention, a product of a society that drives us on to want more and better all of the time. But Thora’s husband is the classic case, leaving a wife that has been through everything with him for a blonder and younger model.
Human nature never changes I suppose, even if the landscape that they live in does.
Fiction based on the Powell and Pressburger Film, ‘A Canterbury Tale’.
“It's a book that can be read in one sitting (though I spread it over two as I wanted to linger over it a bit) and despite great poignancy it's a joy. If you've seen the film, it is a lovely adjunct to it - if you haven't seen the film, do watch it, it's a gem, and then read this lovely little book.”
Review on Amazon by tillyschneider
I am currently researching information for a potential biography of my namesake actor Thorley Walters. If anyone knows of any useful publications, or indeed if they ever met him, I would be most interested to hear from you. Please email email@example.com