Picture it: it is 1948, the war has been over for three years, and the cold winds of change are a blowin'. Britain's greatest hero, Churchill, has been so cruelly shunned by an ungrateful electorate, His Majesty King George VI looks to be ageing rapidly, and the variety circuit is fast becoming an anachronism, all heralding a new age, one of power cuts, freezing winters and nationalisation. The British film industry is finding its feet, with great offerings such as 'Great Expectations' (1945), 'Oliver Twist' (1946) and 'My Brother Jonathan'(1947). Wonderful though these films undoubtedly are, they are all backward looking, nostalgic, products of a bygone age. Now along comes 'Here Come the Huggetts'. Although introduced to a pre - war audience in the excellent 'Holiday Camp' (1938), they belong to a new age altogether, and the film breaks new ground, as instanced by Kathleen Harrison's hysteria at the installation of a telephone, still relatively rare in immediate post war Britain, a scene of utter delight, as she adjures that this dangerous device might 'go off', just like a recently discovered wartime bomb. Indeed, this fine, incredibly long lived character actress (1892 - 1995) was never more accomplished than here, in this superb film. The casting is perfect: each character is so expertly, finely delineated, utterly believable, from the quasi intellectual, pompously played to perfection by David Tomlinson, who was to acquire international recognition for his blustering, vulnerable father, George Banks, in Disney's blockbuster, 'Mary Poppins', to a delightfully cantankerous Amy Venness, as Jack Warner's tough - as - old - boots mother - in - law. Doris Hare plays a well drawn cameo, as a gossipy neighbour, Clive Morton is vaguely aristocratic as Jack Warner's boss, and John Blythe is a cadaverous garage owner, who bullies his junior mechanic, played by a vulnerable, much put upon Peter Hammond. Warner is as solid as a rock, and so is Jimmy Hanley, who nearly misses his wedding day, as he rescues his best man Hammond from a police cell after a drunken car crash. In this film Warner has three daughters, with the Rank Charm School much in evidence. They even keep their own Christian names, Sue (Susan Shaw), Jane (Hylton) and Pet, the nascent musical star Petula Clark, here happily among friends after appearing in that post war turkey, 'London Town'. Shaw is bright and breezy, a far cry from her troubled character in Noel Coward's 'This Happy Breed', Hylton is the splendidly neurotic bride - to - be, who, in Hanley's absence, becomes awkwardly enmeshed with Tomlinson, and Petula Clark chirps away splendidly in 'Walking Backwards', to Esma Cannon's eccentric conducting - a pity we couldn't have had more. Enter Diana Dors, to an incredibly risqué response from Warner. Dors shows that she really can act, as the malingering niece, lounging in bed and upsetting nail varnish on a vital order from at the factory where Warner works, earning him temporary demotion. The overall theme of the film is, appropriately, 'A new beginning', as the film builds up to its climax, Jane and Jimmy's wedding, which, to the relief of everyone (bar Tomlinson), goes without a hitch. A clever parallel is found in the backdrop of the Royal Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, contemporary (20th November, 1947) and highly topical, a seminal instance of lateral thinking in the film's denouement. A sparkling, expertly crafted script underpins the entire production, highlighting the subtle family relationships against the austerity of the times - Mabel Constanduros is much in evidence, as is Peter Rogers, a decade before the inception of 'Carry on' films. In essence, the Huggetts are our first real 'soap' family, forerunners of the Beals of Eastenders and the Dingles of Emmerdale. In their own ways, they all pull together, through thick and through thin, anticipating the next episode and the renewal of their contracts. A brave new world is inhabited by this likable lower middle class suburban Huggett family, for the war is over, and there's 'hope for years to come'. Subsequent Hugget films never reached these giddy heights, although Warner went on to play the eponymous Dixon of Dock Green, while Petula Clark reached international stardom - for them, at least, it was indeed a brave new world.
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