Ealing’s golden age of British cinema   Leave a comment

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Forty years ago, Ealing studios reached the peak of their popularity with a string of unforgettable comedy classics.

Magnificent movies like Passport to Pimlico and The Lavender Hill Mob delighted many generations of British movie fans and instantly made international stars out of Alec Guinness, Margaret Rutherford and Peter Sellers.

The man behind the golden age of British cinema was the famous movie mogul, Sir Michael Balcon. Determined to bring a more authentic and realistic style to his films. Sir Michael transformed Ealing comedies from mere vehicles for big names stars like Will Hay and George Formby to brilliantly scripted situation comedies.

Realising they could not compete with the Americans by imitating them, Ealing films were defiantly British in character. In 1949, Ealing released three of the most popular British films of all time – Passport to Pimlico, Whisky Galore and Kind Hearts and Coronets. Sir Alec Guinness became the actor most firmly identified with this golden era and his amazing performance as Kind Hearts of Coronets launched him to international stardom.

Passport to Pimlico was the first Ealing film to prove a worldwide success. It made Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford international stars. The mild anarchic comedy of these lighthearted movies proved a massive success with a British public who were sick of shortages, rationing and postwar austerity.

The studios, located on Ealing Green, were originally bought by Will Barker in 1902 as a base for film making, and films have been made on the site ever since. It is the oldest continuously working studio facility in the world.

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Ealing studios

Sadly, the golden era could not last – by the mid-fifties. Ealing comedies were a shadow of their former self. The last two comedies proved a sad end to the Ealing story. Whodunnit, starring Benny Hill, was an embarrassing flop and Davy, starring Harry Secombe, was little better.

In 1963, Sir Michael sold the studios the BBC but before the Ealing film crew left the studios, Sir Michael placed a plaque by the building’s entrance. It reads: “Here, during a quarter of a century, many films were made projecting Britain and the British character.”

The studios has recently begun to produce theatrical films again, including both Shaun of the Dead and The Descent in 2005.  It is also home to the Metropolitan Film School of London, which has a purposely built school on the lot, and is currently used by  ITV to shoot parts of  Downton Abbey.

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