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  Woman in a Dressing Gown On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
Year: 1957
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Yvonne Mitchell, Anthony Quayle, Sylvia Syms, Andrew Ray, Carole Lesley, Michael Ripper, Nora Gordon, Marianne Stone, Olga Lindo, Harry Locke, Max Butterfield, Roberta Woolley, Melvyn Hayes
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: As far as Amy (Yvonne Mitchell) is concerned, she has a happy home life running around after her husband Jim (Anthony Quayle) and son Brian (Andrew Ray); as long as the radio is on blaring her music what does it matter that she's burned the toast, spilled the tea, hasn't done the ironing, and spends her days in her dressing gown haphazardly going about her domestic duties? But after twenty or so years of this, she hasn't noticed her husband is growing dissatisfied with his lot, and the reason he keeps going out even at the weekends is not work-related at all...

Woman in a Dressing Gown some would have you believe was one of the first kitchen sink melodramas, yet actually there was a tradition of "realistic" drama in Britain going back a while, it's just that most of them were not particularly enduring in the public consciousness, even the ones which were hits. When writer Ted Willis penned the teleplay for this he might not have been an angry young man, but he was tapping into a spirit of the era where such authenticity was becoming something of a movement, proving you didn't have to be Keith Waterhouse or Alan Sillitoe to create a piece which would resonate with the ordinary viewer who watched this and recognised it.

It's just that as this play's origins on the small screen indicated, there was a definitely more contained tone to the proceedings which would perhaps unavoidably be linked to television, meaning that unless there was an element to render this more cinematic with location shooting, frank language and an attitude towards sex which pushed at censorship boundaries as would be occurring mere months later, it was the box in the corner which seemed best suited to stories such as this. But the movies were still competing with their household rival, and one way to do so was to plunder what had been a hit there in the hope that audiences would flock to see the same thing in their local fleapits.

Watching Woman in a Dressing Gown now, you can well see the reasons it made such an impression on TV viewers, but if you had watched that original broadcast you would probably not lose much by not seeing the film version. Luckily for us, it was that which made the work endure, as we would be unlikely to see it otherwise, lucky because it offered an intriguing insight into fifties Briain and women's place in it as Jim is torn between his more traditional housewife who calls him Jimbo, and the more modern career girl who calls him Preston, his surname. That's right, he's having an affair with his prim and tidy secretary Georgie (Sylvia Syms), who is portrayed no less sympathetically than Amy.

That's not to say we are not aware of each woman's drawbacks and flaws, but we can perceive how they both offer something for Jim that he cannot get with her rival. It's Amy who is the main focus, a woman who you quickly understand has grown quite demented by her drudgery and her methods of denying the fact that life has ground her down into this manic state where she refuses to see the piles of washing up or those overcooked meals are a sign that she needs to shake herself and take a good look at where she has ended up. When the penny drops and she is facing losing her husband she goes into overdrive trying to make things perfect to force Jim to see what he's giving up, and the film lays her incapability on pretty thick - new hairdo drenched in the rain (no umbrella?), bottle of whisky for Jim drunk by herself in one go, that sort of thing. Amy is patently on the verge of cracking up completely, and probably needs Jim more than Georgie does, but whether that makes for a satisfying ending or not is very much in the eye of the beholder.

[Studio Canal's Region 2 DVD has interviews with the producer, an academic, and Sylvia Syms along with the trailer and production stills as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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J. Lee Thompson  (1914 - 2002)

Veteran British director frequently in Hollywood, usually with stories featuring an adventure or thriller slant. Among his many films, including a number of Charles Bronson movies, are capital punishment drama Yield to the Night, adventures Ice Cold in Alex and North West Frontier, the original Cape Fear, Tiger Bay, wartime epic The Guns of Navarone, What a Way To Go!, horror Eye of the Devil, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes and slasher Happy Birthday to Me.

 
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