The Girl of the Canal (1945)

Jenny Laird, Bill Blewitt, May Hallatt, Robert Griffiths,
Drama following the lives of two families living on the colourfully painted canal boats of Britain.
  • 6.7 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Stephen Black, Louis MacNeice, Michael McCarthy, Writer:
  • Charles Crichton, Director:
  • Michael Balcon, Producer:
8 / 10

vivid footage that I have never seen before

The brief notes on the DVD sleeve include the word, 'charming' twice and whilst this is appropriate the film is much more. Indeed the 'charming' storyline can be ignored and the beautifully shot film enjoyed as a documentary, albeit with more than a little of the propaganda feel to it. Cinematography is by Douglas Slocombe and most effective with great use made of the lyrical landscapes and cloud peppered skies. Curious time for film-making, during the War and this must have been intended as a morale boost as much as anything. Amazing shots of the canals, including vivid footage that I have never seen before. I'm astonished that this historic document has been so ignored for so long and for anyone interested in a glimpse at what life on the canals was like in the mid 40s, this is invaluable.

6 / 10

An interesting way of life

Airplanes and motorcars and railways have left the canals of Great Britain far behind as our canals like the Erie Canal in my region of America. Today they exist as artificially made rivers hopefully with a fish in them.

But the canals had a revival of sorts as a method of transporting war material during World War II which lasted two years longer for them than it did for us. Painted Boats is an interesting mixture of documentary about the canals with a boy/girl story of two young people who are the latest generation of families who work the barges and locks of Britain's canal system. Jenny Laird and Robert Griffiths are the two young people who meet and plan to marry but Mr. Hitler disrupts all those plans.

These people's whole lives are wrapped up in the canal system from cradle to grave. When you either run a boat or the locks there's little need to know anything else. A really telling scene in this film is when Laird and her mother May Hallatt sign a new contract with a company and sign with "Xs". No need for literacy on a barge.

Painted boats is an interesting story of a time gone by in the United Kingdom.

8 / 10

There's been a lot of water under the bridge since this little beauty was made

Ealing were just at the beginning their golden period, after this the studio went on during the next year to make Dead Of Night which was one of their towering achievements. This little film however is not in that class even if still spellbinding for beaming back through Time to us a lost England. It's not completely lost because many people still ply boats along canals, only mainly as a pastime though.

It's a short semi-romantic semi-documentary showing brief episodes in the busy lives of a couple of families on the water, working on the Grand Union Canal between the Midlands and London. The rustic homeliness of it all was beautifully captured by the camera of Douglas Slocombe, I lost count of all the languid and lovely images of riverbanks, quaint buildings with or without thatch, gentle or frothing water and blue skies. And all in a clean and glorious black and white nitrate print. Thick accents through dubbed sound can be hard to follow at times as well as occasionally wondering what's going on as it's all taken so leisurely, but it's not a problem. A splendid lulling narration by James McKechnie takes over at times which is redolent of Eric Portman in Canterbury Tale – Can No One Speak Like That Nowadays? Jenny Laird, who a few years before had played Ethel to Just William was the main character in here, emotional Mary. Harry Fowler then nineteen years old played his usual lovable youth role, while Megs Jenkins seemed ready as usual to wash some glasses.

It leaves loose ends in the rush to finish but the main point was achieved in the one hour: the loving views of some wonderful English countryside. Engrossing inconsequential stuff, give it a punt.

7 / 10

Handsome Docu-drama From Ealing

Nominally a story about two families who live on the canal boats of England navigational network, this is mostly about the canals themselves. We get a short documentary of the origins of Britain's network of man-made navigational rivers, their economic importance, and the issues that the riverine culture has with outsiders.

It's Charles Critchton's second movie as a director, and his training as an editor contributes to the brevity of the piece. Mustn't let the audience grow bored with lectures! Although there are professional actors in the movie, particularly Jenny Laird as the ingenue, there's a handsome authenticity to the movie. The characters all seem genuine.

7 / 10

Historically important view of a way of life now long gone

There isn't much of a plot to this slightly unusual but fascinating and quite well made film that is part documentary and part soap opera. However that isn't really the point here as the film has far more worth as a snapshot of life for those families who worked and lived on the British canals in the 1940s.

Whilst the film used (mostly) professional actors, the backdrop was real and utilised lots of location filming . As I said there isn't much of a story beyond the lives of a family who live and work on a canal barge and the world they live in. The story concerns the character Mary (Jenny Laird) and her love of life working the canals as generations before her have done. She is engaged to fellow bargee Ted Stoner who dreams of putting down roots and living in a house (unlike Mary). He hopes the army will call him up and offer him a way out and a trade even though he is is supposedly exempted from the draft as well as being illiterate. His younger brother Alf (Harry Fowler) finds life on the canal exciting yet his fractured education and that of others who live like him is also very prominently addressed.

Although there is a certain amount of a 'rose tinted' view of the lives of these gypsies of the river, the film doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of their life either, especially the scene where a contract is signed but the women in the scene cannot write their name so just sign it with an 'X'.

This film works as a glimpse of a way of life that existed for the best part of 200 years. However even in 1945 the film makers could see that the writing was on the wall for the bargee way of life. The importance of the railway network and the improvement of the roads and the rise of the HGV are all addressed. The second world war was probably the last hurrah for the canal network and those who worked on it for industrial reasons. In fact the war itself may very well have prolonged its importance and therefore its existence for a few extra years as trains were needed for things like troop transport and petrol was in short supply for road vehicles because of the war effort. However by the 1950s the wide scale commercial use of lorries, the nationalisation of the railways and the post war social changes in areas such as improved housing, education and healthcare all but effectively sounded the death knell for this way of life and by the end of the 1960s the canals were of little commercial importance anymore . In this respect the film offers us an invaluable look into the final few years of life on the canals and the people who worked them.