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  Franchise Affair, The The Accused
Year: 1951
Director: Lawrence Huntington
Stars: Michael Denison, Dulcie Gray, Anthony Nichols, Marjorie Fielding, Athene Seyler, John Baily, Ann Stephens, Hy Hazell, Kenneth More, Avice Landone, Maureen Glynne, Peter Jones, Moultrie Kelsall, Martin Boddey, Patrick Troughton, Victor Maddern
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A country road in the pouring rain at night, and a passing truck is stopped by a teenage girl who has apparently been abandoned there; she hitches a lift and manages to get back to her aunt's house where she is greeted with open arms. The girl is Betty Kane (Ann Stephens), and she has been missing for a couple of weeks, which is why her explanation is so shocking: she claims to have been held captive by Marion Sharpe (Dulcie Gray) and her elderly mother (Marjorie Fielding) who Betty describes as witch-like. The Sharpes live alone in a walled country house, and have no proof that what the girl says is false, which is why Marion calls up the village solicitor Robert Blair (Michael Denison) to help...

The Franchise Affair began life as one of the bestselling mysteries from popular British author Josephine Tey, one of her biggest books in terms of success, which is why it was an obvious choice for making into a film. Actually, it might have begun longer ago than when the novel was published in 1948, for Tey based her plot on a celebrated case of the 1700s where Elizabeth Canning became one of the first, if not the first, media sensations when she claimed to have been kidnapped by two women, a case that was never resolved satisfactorily but was the source of many an argument over that day's papers as to her innocence or guilt. As in the book, the film kept us guessing.

At least for the first half, as while Blair is convinced that Betty is pulling a fast one, we do not necessarily share his faith in the Sharpes, a faith which develops into a chaste romance between he and Marion as his perceived sense of the injustice of their situation brings the lifelong bachelor into feelings of great affection, though there may be unadmitted to pity in there as well. The deck is stacked against them, however, especially for British audiences of the day what with Betty played by Ann Stephens, a wartime celebrity as a little girl who appeared in movies but was best known for her frightfully well-spoken recordings of songs for children such as The Teddy Bears' Picnic and They're Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace. Butter wouldn't melt in Ann's mouth.

Ah, but were the producers trying to fool us with this casting as well? By the second half it was a matter of the now ostracised Sharpes attempting to clear their names, after a campaign of hooliganism directed at them by the lynch mob mentality the locals adopt, not willing to hear anything other than Betty's side of the story and swallowing it without question. The point that scepticism can be healthy will not be lost on viewers, and this may have been rather staid in its presentation, with stiff upper lips all round, it was the fact of the threats to polite society caused by the chaos of malicious accusations that offered an undeniable charge to the narrative. Looking back, the Britain of 1951 seems well-mannered to a fault, yet the actual fault arrives when the bile is unleashed by those who see the status quo offended.

Denison and Gray were a popular husband and wife acting team whose marriage was one of the most lasting in British showbiz: they spent most of their careers on the West End stage where their legions of fans would dutifully show up to watch whatever production they were performing in no matter what, they knew they were in for a reliable evening's entertainment and so it was with the films the couple made, of which this was representative. They were still acting together decades later - Sunday night soap opera Howard's Way was graced with their presence, and if their style of acting has gone out of fashion they were not without a certain grace and charm which endures to this day. They also, probably inadvertantly, brought out the British disease in The Franchise Affair, as class enters into the fray; the Sharpes live in their big, old house, a symbol of a faded gentry, as the hoi polloi get to assert themselves, albeit it in a misguided fashion, though Blair drums up support from various working class sorts along the way, building towards a reliable courtroom thriller finale. Music by Philip Green.

[Network's DVD in its British Film series has a gallery as an extra. The print shows minor wear, but is perfectly watchable, and fans of the novel will be entertained.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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