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Anthony Asquith

Anthony Asquith

Tom Ryall
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    Anthony Asquith
    Book Description:

    This is the first comprehensive critical study of Anthony Asquith. Ryall sets the director's work in the context of British cinema from the silent period to the 1960s, examining the artistic and cultural influences which shaped his films. Asquith's silent films were compared favourably to those of his eminent contemporary Alfred Hitchcock, but his career faltered during the 1930s. However, the success of Pygmalion (1938) and French Without Tears (1939), based on plays by George Bernard Shaw and Terence Rattigan, together with his significant contributions to wartime British cinema, re-established him as a leading British film maker. Asquith's post-war career includes several pictures in collaboration with Terence Rattigan, and the definitive adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1951), but his versatility is demonstrated in a number of modest genre films including The Woman in Question (1950), The Young Lovers (1954) and Orders to Kill (1958).

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-434-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series editors’ foreword
    (pp. vii-vii)

    The aim of this series is to present in lively, authoritative volumes a guide to those film-makers who have made British cinema a rewarding but still under-researched branch of world cinema. The intention is to provide books which are up-to-date in terms of information and critical approach, but not bound to any one theoretical methodology. Though all books in the series will have certain elements in common – comprehensive filmographies, annotated bibliographies, appropriate illustration – the actual critical tools employed will be the responsibility of the individual authors.

    Nevertheless, an important recurring element will be a concern for how the...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Dilys Powell’s acknowledgement of Asquith’s significance to the British cinema was written as part of a tribute to the director and published in 1968 by the British Film Institute shortly after his death. The tribute, understandably effusive in the context of a commemorative publication, has not quite been echoed by those who have written about the history of British cinema in the years since Asquith’s death in 1968. One film historian has suggested that he is ‘perhaps the most underrated director in British film history’;² yet it may be closer to the mark to suggest that Asquith has not really...

  6. 2 The formative years
    (pp. 25-45)

    Asquith began his film career in 1926 at a point when the British film industry was moving through a production crisis. The First World War, of course, had disrupted the European cinemas in particular but, in terms of the volume of production, the British cinema had recovered well and, for example, well over a hundred films were produced annually from 1919 until 1922. Thereafter production began to decline and a pattern of ‘boom and bust’ became discernible, one which was to become familiar to British film-makers as a recurrent feature of the British film industry at various times in its...

  7. 3 The 1930s
    (pp. 46-68)

    Although Asquith had established something of a reputation by the end of the silent period, his career in the 1930s wavered somewhat. He had directed (or co-directed) four features in two years in the late 1920s, but was only to direct six films between 1930 and 1939 (or seven if the English version of the multiple language filmThe Unfinished Symphonyis included). Yet, in general terms, under the stimulus of the 1928 Quota Act and the protected market for British films, it was a decade of opportunity for film-makers. Based on one set of statistics, from 1932 until 1938...

  8. 4 Wartime British cinema
    (pp. 69-95)

    Asquith, with a now established reputation as one of Britain’s leading film-makers, was ideally placed to play a key role in the specific demands placed upon the British cinema in the wartime period. Yet, neitherPygmalionnorFrench Without Tears, the films which had helped to consolidate his standing, prefigured the active engagement with wartime subject matter which Asquith was to demonstrate during the period of conflict. Indeed, most of his wartime films – six out of the eight features – have wartime subject matter and can be seen in the context of the industry’s contribution to the war effort....

  9. 5 Post-war films 1 – genre and British cinema
    (pp. 96-120)

    The British cinema emerged from the war period with a high critical reputation, a degree of audience appeal, and with the Rank group well established as a large vertically integrated company ready to challenge the Hollywood majors in the international marketplace. Yet, the early post-war years saw the industry coping with a turbulent period of uncertainty dramatised by a trade war with Hollywood during which the American majors withheld their films from the British market for several months. The uncertainty, however, was also embodied in a series of official reports and discussion documents from government, political parties, and trade unions,...

  10. 6 Post-war films 2 – adaptation and the theatre
    (pp. 121-140)

    The British cinema in the post-war period was not overly dependent upon the theatre for its source material. One writer has estimated that ‘of the 1,033 British films of the 1950s listed in David Quinlan’sBritish Sound Films, some 152 were based on stage plays’.¹ On an annual basis the figure never fell below 10 per cent of the annual production output; in some years it reached more than 20 per cent, as in 1948 when there were nineteen stage-originated features out of seventy-four films, and in 1952 when the figure was twenty-seven out of 117 films.² Yet for Asquith...

  11. 7 The ‘international’ film
    (pp. 141-158)

    For many critics the films from the final phase of Asquith’s career were a disappointment, especially the ‘increasingly banal prestige productions likeThe V.I.P.s(1963) andThe Yellow Rolls-Royce(1964)’.¹ Such films, financed by American money supplemented by various forms of state subsidy, filmed in a range of European locations, with all-star casts drawn from all parts of the globe, became the high-profile end of a trend in post-war European cinema. They were a reflection of changing Hollywood production practices which had an especially marked influence on the British cinema of the 1960s in particular. Terms such as ‘runaway’, ‘international’,...

  12. 8 Asquith and the British cinema
    (pp. 159-168)

    In a career lasting from the 1920s to the 1960s Anthony Asquith directed thirty-five feature films: he also worked in a variety of capacities on other films; foreign-version direction, screenwriting, second unit work, and so on. He made a number of short films; some were drama-documentary films made for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, others were made for charities such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, and St Dunstan’s, a centre for the blind. He also directedZero(1960), an adaptation of a Samuel Beckett play, and a most improbable project for Asquith. He...

  13. Filmography
    (pp. 169-188)
  14. Select bibliography
    (pp. 189-194)
  15. Index
    (pp. 195-200)