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New book revisits Britain's best loved film studio

Thu, 15 Nov 2012

A major new book co-edited by two University of East Anglia academics sheds light on the work of Britain's best loved film studio.

Ealing Revisited offers a new look at the films and history of Ealing studios, one of Britain’s most influential studios and best known for producing comedies such as The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Ladykillers (1955). Published by BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, the book is edited by Dr Melanie Williams and Dr Keith Johnston from UEA’s School of Film, Television and Media Studies, Mark Duguid (BFI) and Lee Freeman (University of Hull).

The book draws together some of the leading experts on Ealing and British cinema to explore its history. The series of essays, including contributions from Dr Williams and Dr Johnston, shows there is more to the studios than the comedies it is most famous for and considers the impact Ealing has had on British cultural life from the 1930s to the present.

Dr Williams, whose chapter focuses on the relationship between Ealing and women, said the book aimed to challenge the one-dimensional view of the studio. “There is much more diversity even in Ealing's comedies than ever seems to be recognised, and a great deal more to Ealing than comedy alone,” she said. “One of the primary intentions of this book is to push aside simplistic stereotypes of 'classic' Ealing, and to reassess those films that have been unfairly passed over.”

Dr Johnston watched and blogged about all the Ealing films to mark the studio’s 80th anniversary last year. “While it covers the well-known films, our new book is a call to arms to explore the uncharted waters of Ealing’s output, to go beyond the core comedy titles, to push against the stereotypes that have emerged around ‘classic’ Ealing, particularly notions of the studio as cosy, conforming, and safe,” he said.

“Comedies actually only make up a third of Ealing’s output - it did crime, melodrama, period drama. There was also a darker element to some of its films with gritty portraits of British life, as well as attempts to reach international audiences with its output.”

This year sees the 25th anniversary of Ealing Studios, the first academic book on the studio, written by UEA professor Charles Barr. Ealing Revisited, in which Prof Barr also has a chapter, represents the first major academic book on the studio since 1977. Topics covered include the studio’s international output, its use of colour in films, Alex Guinness’ Ealing performances, the work of director Pen Tennyson and Ealing’s chief costume designer and wardrobe supervisor Anthony Mendleson.

The release of Ealing Revisited is part of a major project by the BFI celebrating the output of Ealing Studios. Ealing: Light and Dark includes a two month retrospective at BFI Southbank, which runs until December 30 and will feature screenings of the classics and comedies but also some of the little known releases. Dr Johnston is introducing the screening of Scott of the Antarctic (1948) on December 9, while Dr Williams is introducing Dance Hall (1950) on December 22.

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