It's Sunday in the East End of London, and it's raining. In the household of the Sandigates, they wake up to hear the raindrops on the window and Rose (Googie Withers) knocks on the wall to rouse her stepdaughters, demanding a cup of tea for herself and husband George (Edward Chapman). Doris (Patricia Plunkett) forces herself to get up, and opens the curtains while her sister Vi (Susan Shaw) wants further shut-eye: Doris is shocked to see she hasn't taken off her party dress from her Saturday night out. But the news is full of reports of an escape from Dartmoor Prison, which would have been just another crime story - though not for Rose.
These days Britain's celebrated Ealing Studios is best known for its comedies, mostly the ones from the nineteen-fifties, but that was not the only string to their bow, as they would make drama as well, and indeed until Hue and Cry came along in the late forties that was what they were known for in the main. This film was often seen as their greatest achievement in that field, a grim and gritty tale of East End life which could almost be seen as the prototype for the BBC's high-rated soap opera Eastenders which arrived about forty years after and upheld its stylings of working class life in all its supposed misery.
At least, working class life was depicted as miserable in efforts like these, making a significant change from the more middle class drama which proliferated before, though Ealing saw themselves as the studio of the people, and their movies reflected that. Here, although best remembered for starring the husband and wife team of Googie Withers and John McCallum (the latter best known for bringing Skippy the Bush Kangaroo to the world's TV screens in the sixties), it actually turned out to be more of an ensemble piece, with Rose's dilemma only part of a tapestry of human life centred around the Sandigate family as pretty much all of them were offered their own subplot to deal with.
Well, George didn't get one, Chapman now most famous for being the Mr Grimsdale of Norman Wisdom comedies, but that's because he was meant to be boring, the epitome of a drab British life Rose has become stuck in when she wishes she could have gone away with McCallum's Tommy Swann, and she would have too if he hadn't got himself arrested for a violent robbery some years before. She had to settle for domestic drudgery, this being set on a Sunday when at that time everything was closed and summing up the overriding mood of a nation who won the Second World War and wondered when exactly their just reward of good times were going to begin. Therefore this film encapsulated a post-war malaise that was a far cry from the normal British cinematic triumphs of reliving the conflict.
If you haven't guessed by now, Tommy is the escaped convict, and he makes a beeline for Rose, hiding in her shed until she goes to hang out the washing, then confronting her: the possibility of getting away from the crushing tedium tellingly depicted as something illicit and forbidden, as if to say we're still all in this together, and you have to like being downtrodden with the rest of us or lump it. She smuggles him into the house where he conceals himself until Rose tells him everyone else has gone out, when although it's not explicitly shown we can guess they can resume their passionate affair. Meanwhile the local colour intrudes, with spivs, dodgy traders, the police, cheeky kids and slatterns conjuring up a vivid picture of what it was like to exist there as the net tightens around Tommy. Director Robert Hamer's work here was said to be closest to his bleak view of humanity after the War traumatised him; just as there were some things you cannot un-see, here was a thwarted, bitter bunch who would be hard to forget - their influence continues today. Music by Georges Auric.