British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

By Ian MacKillop; Neil Sinyard | Go to book overview

Boys, ballet and begonias:
The Spanish Gardener and
its analogues

ALISON PLATT

THE SIXTH S ENSE, an American film of 1999 from an Indian director, M. Night Shyamalan, with an all-American star (Bruce Willis), seems a very long way from British cinema of the 1950s. 1 But the boy in this film (Haley Joel Osment) seems almost a revenant from the British post-war era, with his lack of teenage quality, his innocence of youth culture and, more importantly, his anguished concern for and with the adult (Willis) whom he befriends. Here there is something of Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol (1948), Anthony Pélissier's The Rocking Horse Winner (1949), Philip Leacock's The Spanish Gardener (1956) and other films of the period that centre upon the child/adult relationship or incorporate it as a theme: Anthony Asquith's The Winslow Boy (1948) and The Browning Version (1951), and Philip Leacock's The Kidnappers (1953). Perhaps the template for this type of isolated child is Pip in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946). Anthony Wager as young Pip seems an irrevocably old-fashioned child victim, the Little Father Time of Hardy's Jude the Obscure, as does John Howard Davies asking for more in Lean's Oliver Twist (1948). This sensitive-looking child returns in The Sixth Sense and indeed in another film of 1999, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia.

Neither of the children who feature in these films exemplifies today's idea of `normal' children in cinema, which is based on a concept of young, tough `kids' that does not show children as people. Stuart Jeffries recently bemoaned the similarities of late 1990s/early 2000 British films, including `the spate of sentimental films about the travails of small boys in the provinces.' 2 He attributes this to British cinema's desire to play it safe, to

____________________
I lecture in English Literature at the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool where I did my doctorate on the fiction and philosophy of George Eliot. I became interested in the films of the 1950s through the Sunday afternoon television of the 1970s, such films now irrevocably associated with childhood and the digestion of roast dinners. Particularly interested in literary adaptations, both past and recent, I have published on Hardy and Eliot, including an essay on the BBC Middlemarch with Ian Mackillop in The classic novel (Manchester University Press, 1999). I must confess there are no begonias in The Spanish Gardener. Alison Platt

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