David Lean, you may know him from those big budget, multi-award winning epics, but he also made number of excellent smaller British films. Hobson’s Choice is one….
Hobson has a choice, indeed a number of choices. And that isn’t just one Hobson. Henry Horatio Hobson (Charles Laughton) seems to be the obvious choice for someone who has to have a choice – after all he is the proprietor of a Salford based shoe manufacturer of significant quality and his considers his trade and public standing to be hugely important, as well as his visits to the Moonrakers public house for plentiful drinks while his employees, including his three daughters, run the business and ensure that he gets his dinner on the table when he wants it. He’s quite keen to marry off his younger daughters but not to their current amours, while the efficient and forthright elder daughter Maggie Hobson (Brenda De Banzie) seems, at least to her drunken old man, to be too aged for matrimony. While he seeks to enjoy increasingly oddly timed traditional lunches and dinners between his quaffing of spirits he leaves the boot and shoe manufacture to his workers, one of whom is Willie Mossop (John Mills), whose craftsmanship is distinctly professional and whose hard-working attitude appeals to Maggie. What possible choices face the workers, the industry, the daughters, the local community and, of course, Hobson himself?
In many ways our interpretations of David Lean as a filmmaker have tended to centre on a number of sets of films – the epics which have won huge critical acclaim and often many awards: A Passage to India (1984) Ryan’s Daughter (1970) Doctor Zhivago (1965), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Bridge on the River Kwai(1957); and then there are the wonderful Dickens adaptations (Oliver Twist (1948) Great Expectations(1946)) and, of course, Brief Encounter (1945) and his collaborations with Noel Coward, but many of his smaller films have been, if not ignored, kept as little secrets, so it is great to see a re-release of this droll social drama.
Hobson’s Choice is a terrific character piece that is not only of its time, but very much of its place. A stern Northern lass, Maggie is domineering and determined to make a life for herself her way, but it is because she is competent and focussed that she stands a very great chance of success. Poor Willie Mossop, boot-maker extraordinaire, is no match for Maggie once she has set her sights on him for matrimony. But somehow he manages to work hard, transcend his class and better himself. What a contrast to the slovenly drunkard Henry Horatio Hobson, whose hatred of lawyers is matched only by insistence that he really is the master of his house and that his daughters should recognise this. Oh, and his ability to drink himself under the table at every opportunity.
Hobson’s Choice is enjoyable entertainment that really sticks the boot into lesser films. It combines romance, class issues, employment concerns, lawyers, marriage, general family bickering with lots of dry humour. And shoes.