Ordinary People: This Happy Breed (1944)

Frank Ethel

Upon discovering that a David Lean movie spans twenty years, the word “epic” is apt to spring to mind. It’s only natural; after all, Lean was the director behind such grandiose films as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). However, in actuality, 1944’s This Happy Breed is something entirely different from those later, better known works. There are no battle scenes with seas of extras, no larger than life figures. Instead, the film — based on Noël Coward’s play of the same name — not only focuses on an ordinary middle-class English family but emphasizes its very ordinariness.

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Not Any Man’s Property: Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)

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The first few minutes of the 1967 film Far from the Madding Crowd, directed by John Schlesinger and based on Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel of the same title, belong entirely to the English landscape — specifically, that of the southwestern part of the country, along the coast. As seen through the lens of cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, the pale brown hills and steely sky and sea create a bleak picture, yet one that has its own austere sort of beauty and, above all, power. When a human figure finally appears, he’s little more than a speck on the horizon with a herd of dingy sheep at his feet. Interpersonal drama will soon move to the forefront, but the natural world remains an ever-present force.

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