The Gainsborough melodramas were a sequence of films produced by the British film studio Gainsborough Pictures during the 1940s which conformed to a melodramatic style. The melodramas were not a film series but an unrelated sequence of films which had similar themes and frequently recurring actors who played similar characters in each. The popularity of the films with audiences peaked in the immediate post-war years, but production of such films lasted until the end of Gainsborough in 1949. The success of the films led to other British producers releasing similarly-themed works such as The Seventh Veil, Idol of Paris and Pink String and Sealing Wax.
The first film in the sequence was The Man in Grey (based on a novel of the same name) which proved to be a major success on its release in 1943. This led to a number of similar pictures being made often based on melodramatic period novels. The films dominated the British box office, out-grossing top Hollywood productions and breaking a number of records. A large element of their appeal was their overt escapism at a time when the Second World War was still being fought.
Previously the studio had been particularly known for its comedy films, but rapidly became closely associated with melodrama. The films have become synonymous with the studios, in a manner that resembles the Ealing Comedies. This was despite the fact that Gainsborough made films in a variety of genres during its twenty-five year existence. The films were initially received with critical hostility, but in subsequent years they have become the subject of more favourable study.
Many of the films make use of chiaroscuro lighting and mildly expressionist imagery, influenced by the earlier style of German cinema. The producer Edward Black played a major role in overseeing a number of the earlier films. Later, Sydney Box became head of production at Gainsborough. The films were made either at Gainsborough's Islington Studios or the larger Lime Grove Studios in Shepherd's Bush.
A large number of actors appeared in the films, but they are particularly associated with James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, Stewart Granger, Patricia Roc, Jean Kent, Dennis Price and Dulcie Gray. Leslie Arliss directed several of the most successful films. Other directors included Arthur Crabtree, Anthony Asquith and Bernard Knowles.
At the height of the melodramas' popularity James Mason and Margaret Lockwood were respectively voted the most popular British male and female actor.
- Aldgate, Anthony & Richards, Jeffrey. Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War. I.B. Tauris, 2007.
- Cook, Pam (ed.). Gainsborough Pictures. Cassell, 1997.
- Murphy, Robert. Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48. Routledge, 1992.
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