It is Christmastime and twelve-year-old Jennifer Bailey (Janette Scott) is outside in the snow, having fun at the big house of her friends, and her best friend out of all of them is Martin (Brian Smith). After a snowball fight with the carol singers she goes home to see her father, William (Leo Genn), but her wish that her mother Paula (Beatrice Campbell) should be there too is dashed when she's nowhere to be seen. When is she coming back, wonders Jennifer? Her Aunt Jacqueline (Jean Cadell) assures her that her father will be up to see her with the warm milk she has before bedtime, so she dutifully climbs the stairs, briefly overhearing him walk out of his office with another gentleman and they sound as if they’re talking legal matters. She doesn't understand yet, but she will.
Divorce was not as common in the Britain of 1950 as it is now, and there was a certain stigma attached to suffering the failure of a marriage, so essentially No Place for Jennifer was Emotional Blackmail: The Movie for almost the entirety of its running time as the title character endures all sorts of terrible trials (one literally) because her parents are splitting up. Obviously such an unhappy event is going to take its toll on any child who is aware enough to realise what it going on, but when Paula tells her that it's over and she will be moving away to London while her daughter stays in this rural village, Jennifer takes it particularly badly, as for example we see when we are treated to a montage of her nightmare.
Naturally, this looks pretty overwrought and even ridiculous now, but working from a script by future director J. Lee Thompson you could at least discern a genuine sincerity to the way this played out, a need to get into the mind of a child of divorce and help her through the experience. Not every kid is going to react in quite the same way as Jennifer does here thank goodness, but interestingly this was not a story where mummy and daddy were going to see the error of their ways and reunite before the end credits rolled: too much was said that couldn't be taken back on both sides, though it's Paula who bears the brunt of the film's lightly accusing tone. It tried to be even-handed, but the ex-wife did not exactly cover herself in glory.
Before you think this was a film made by men to put the women in a bad light, remember the source novel was penned by a woman, so it wasn't as cut and dried as it may appear. And anyway, you may be too distracted by how terribly posh everyone sounded (aside from the occasional Cockney) which made it a film that was crafted in a manner that it just wouldn’t be today, Janette Scott (on her way to grown up stardom) forever referring to her "mummeh" and "deddeh" was unintentionally amusing now that RP accents had gone the way of the dinosaurs unless you were related to the British Royal Family. But they meant well, and the theme that when a couple divorced the children should be looked after extremely carefully was one that still held true in the future, with this film going through a checklist of anxiety for the character.
Therefore you got the paranoia that the other children are whispering about Jennifer behind her back at school, which may well be justified, the feelings that she is being abandoned by one or both parents, the sense of betrayal when they find another love she refuses to accept as a substitute for their opposite number in the divorce (William has the nice French teacher from Jennifer's new school, Paula a silly ass music composer), and so forth. But this film went further, as in the latter stages it turned into a thriller after a fashion when the girl has to attend the law courts after Paula tries to kidnap her on a forged passport (!) and is so horrified at the cross examination her mother is receiving she runs away. While on the run, a girlhunt is staged so she has to avoid police, railway staff and even an actual paedophile in a sequence that is unexpectedly chilling for what was initially a cosy melodrama. But that was a characteristic of No Place for Jennifer, it might seem silly with the passing of time, yet once it was over you might be impressed with how engrossing it was. Music by Allan Gray.
[Network's DVD is a restored release from its British Film line, and has a gallery as extra.]