The Ealing studios story began in 1902, and their long legacy stretches the lifespan of the oldest continuously working film studio in the world, still in working order to this day. Despite this, ‘Ealing’ is as inseparable from the idea of wry, dry and classic comedies as Walt Disney Studios and animation. They may have moved on, but reflexively, we defer, and that’s probably for the best. To be thought of in terms of only the Ealing Comedies is a great compliment.

That Ealing Feeling

Someone who may agree with that assessment is Terence Davies, perhaps the most English of all English directors alive today, who, in this video, exalts the greatness of two Ealing classics, and by example, the magic of the studio itself.

His first point; since every line and bit-part in an Ealing comedy is written with stupendous wit, the enormous repertoire of character actors under the Ealing umbrella have every opportunity to relish their roles, down to the smallest, most sidelined bit parts. One line has the potential to be a highlight of a film, or a career, if chewed and relished with sufficient droll.

One of Davies’ favorite examples of the layered writing of Ealing projects, The Lady Killers, works at two levels, first as a revenge tragedy played in reverse (one by one the slimy protagonists off each other), but secondly; you may pick up on the social commentary at play. All these men are from different parts of English society, but all constitute failures. The postwar subtext of many Ealing comedies explore the position England found itself in at the time of their production; with a war won, an empire lost, these characters who span social hierarchy today are historically interesting as well.

Davies was taught by Alexander Mackendrick during his years at film school, a time during which the prudent learner took the opportunity to probe Mackendrick about his involvement with The Lady Killers, and a sweet memory emerged, involving yet another example of the studio’s dedication to character actors. When you mean to spread brilliance amongst a cast this magnificent, your dialogue is pushed to its heights, every exchange a game of one-up-manship with your previous work.

Despite his abiding love for The Lady Killers, Davies still prefers Kind Hearts and Coronets, the crowning achievement of Ealing studios; a comedy about a prospective aristocrat/serial killer. An unsavory protagonist to be sure, but amazingly, you find yourself wanting him to get away with his crimes. Much of this comes down, once again, to the subtext: this time the film represents an attack on privilege, all those easy-to-despise snobs who feel they are owed things (a trait which winds up extending to our main character as well). Davies focuses in on a single breathtaking scene, wherein the dialogue is subtle enough that everything goes unsaid, and yet two characters manage to plan a murder all the same, while being overseen by jailers. This pirouette of screenwriting prowess is followed in short order by a prime example of another of Ealing’s trademarks; a phenomenal closing scene, marked by a spectacularly dark twist of irony.

We hope Davies’ fawning is enough to convince you to inspect the lavish work of Ealing, and to be inspired in turn to write as generously, and to revel in your work, as much as they clearly did.

That Ealing Feeling
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