Woman in a Dressing Gown
What was the ﬁrst sexy British ﬁlm Frears remembers? `Woman in a Dressing Gown,' he says without hesitation. `Actually, I don't think I ever saw Woman in a Dressing Gown, but its title always gave me a powerful erotic thrill.' 1
TO ANYONE WHO has seen it, Stephen Frears's response to Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957) seems laughably inappropriate. The dressing gown of the title is not the ﬂimsy négligé of a seductress but a decidedly unerotic shapeless old housecoat worn by middle-aged housewife Amy Preston (Yvonne Mitchell), whose inability to ﬁnd time to dress in the morning illustrates her poor organisational abilities, rather than a déshabillé sexuality. Amy aspires to be the perfect housewife but, despite several frantic attempts to get her house in order, never quite manages it. The mise-en-scène acts as a constant reminder of Amy's failure, showing her home crowded with piles of unironed laundry, unwashed plates and unﬁnished mending, all of which prompted Raymond Durgnat to describe the ﬁlm as `a rhapsody of bad housekeeping'. 2
Furthermore, Amy's husband Jim (Anthony Quayle) is having an affair with a young woman at work, Georgie (Sylvia Syms), who is neat, tidy and efﬁcient; the absolute antithesis of Amy. On the surface, Woman in a Dressing Gown is a drama that counterpoints two different kinds of women: if Georgie is the ideal of 1950s femininity, serene, sexually attractive and `mature', then Amy is its unacceptable face, scatty, scruffy and loud. 3 However, what prevents any simple reading of the ﬁlm as purely an indictment of Amy as a bad housewife is, as Marcia Landy has argued, its insistent focus on `the sights and sounds of Amy's life … the visualization of her milieu'. 4____________________
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Publication information: Book title: British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration. Contributors: Ian MacKillop - Editor, Neil Sinyard - Editor. Publisher: Manchester University Press. Place of publication: Manchester, England. Publication year: 2003. Page number: Not available.
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