April 20, 1954 [Hobson's Choice]

I have never been to Great Britian, and I don't think I should ever go.  The image I have in my head, pieced together over the years from books and movies, is not merely false but fragile, a feet-at-the-hearth homeliness coupled with a kind of dry--here comes that deadly word--"whimsy"; and the result is a warm lie I'm fond of telling myself, as though Alice's slow descent down her rabbit-hole--picking at Pickwick Papers as she floats, musing over wee Tennysonian sighs, overhearing Shavian spirited talk batted about like shuttlecocks on a spring lawn--were all somehow waiting, with the rasp of my feet on some briny shingle, Lake Isles in the distance, alive simply as background, just for me.  To make my way over there, and stand in an actual geography--with an actual population going about its real business--would be too much for my country-parish, foggy-moor fabrication.

It's no wonder that Hobson's Choice still has me grinning--well, more of a half-smile, now, the film's memory of Merrie Olde already passing into my own memory, layered like comfortable blankets.  It's David Lean again, whose versions of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations have already made their own contributions to my incipient Anglophilism, sickly sweet and a little too precious for my own good--but still:

Charles Laughton's overbearing Hobson cannot be hated; in the end he's just too darned cute, even his delirium tremens just a guy in a soft-focus rat costume, and his obnoxiousness a simple variation on the Old Sport at the pub, staggering out at closing-time, laughs all around.

And the daughter, the "spinster" Maggie, taking over and setting everything to right, as surefooted as a Dickens plot, no loose ends allowed.

And most of all John Mills as Willie Mossop, open-mouthed at his Maggie's machinations, tousled by the wind of Laughton's bluster--but drawing himself up, his collar at last the stiffest and cleanest in the room.

--But maybe it's there, in Mossop's victory, that the movie edges closer to a real England, the bootmaker ascendant, while the Man of Mercantile Means plays the fool, with a woman at the helm, reconfiguring the classes, the rabbit in his hole Mossop once was now rising from the basement workroom to stride among the clientele, owning the means of both production and distribution.

--I won't take this any further.  Actual class restructuring?  An England, it is implied, with troubles that need correction?  This is too much, the sudden social conscience, however veiled.  I refuse to follow this line--instead, oh green and pleasant land, somewhere off in the distance I spy the White Cliffs of Dover, strangely enough always bathed in sunlight, and hear the carriages clip-clop on the cobblestones, the game afoot with maybe a bit of fog at the periphery to soften sharp edges.


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