Hobson's Choice ★★★★

Part of Lise and Jonnie’s March Around the World 2017

Hobson’s Choice – Film 16 – UK

As Lise had other things she needed to finish, I had the 30 Countries pick tonight to myself. Earlier in the day on the Twitter, I saw a mention that it would have been David Lean’s 109th birthday.

There’s a scarce few now that I haven’t seen from his canon, and I must admit that he’s one of my favourite directors. My first exposure to him was in grade 7, so I guess about 12 years old, when we read Dicken’s Great Expectations, and then later watched the film in class. Back then, although I had already had been exposed to my film appreciation turning point, 2001, a few years earlier, I remember it seeming stuffy and boring, like the novel ( which my book report, as I remember, wasn’t favoured by my British born teacher ).

Then, one snowy winter night the next year when I was 13, I trod off on the 90 minute long 3 bus ride journey to the 70mm film festival at Ontario Place to see Dr. Zhivago. I was absolutely floored at Lean’s ability to bring drama and humanity together on such an epic scale. It instantly became one of my favourite films. I then, later at the same 70mm festival, saw Lawrence of Arabia, and Bridge on the River Kwai. Lean was cemented in my estimation as a filmmaking master, along with my beloved Stanley Kubrick.

Many decades passed, and I didn’t think too much about Mr. Lean aside from re-watching my favourite epics. Then, probably a dozen or more years ago, Lise and I watched Brief Encounter, and once again I was floored. This was an entirely different Lean, though. Simple, compact, but with the same eye for humanity that the epics hung their sizeable cloth on.

Over the years Lise and I have explored many of his early works, each setting it’s own unique tone, but having the same humanity at the core. Even the re-watch, after my initial impression in that Grade 7 classroom some 45 years ago, of Great Expectations was a treat. Fallen away were the memories of awkward dialogue, and emerged a kind of lyrical poetry in the life and times of Pip.

Some of my happiest watches, though, were the Lean and Noel Coward collaborations, including This Happy Breed, a charming and touching look at a British family between the great wars, and Blythe Spirit, a cheeky romp regarding an apparitional ex. Hobson’s Choice struck me as an amalgam of the two. Cheeky, yet honest and real.

Charles Laughton, as the cantankerous toper Henry Hobson, the owner of a boot shop who’s set against providing a dowry for his four marriage aged daughters, is picture perfect. His pompous drawl, portly presence, and sarcastic tongue provide the perfect stage for what is essentially a gender reversed Pygmalion. Brenda de Banzie, as Hobson’s canny eldest Maggie, tagged an old maid by his assessment as a miserly patriarch, is simply a delight. In appearance, style, heart, empathy, and verve she reminds me of a fusion of Frances McDormand and Kati Outinen. Maggie is determined not to be subjugated … she is going to make her own way …. by means of the transformation of meek and humble, but incredibly talented, boot smith William Mossop, played with the usual touching modesty by John Mills, in this My Fair Lady-esq transformation from meek to confident.

My lips turned to smile when I Googled ‘Hobson’s Choice’, looking for some additional background on the film, and found that it was in fact an idiom for ‘take it or leave it’, or rather no choice at all. Seems so perfectly fitting the end of the film.

While I’m happy to have found this, I’m sad that my visits to undiscovered Lean films are rapidly dwindling. I hope the final three are as lovely as this one.

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