Millions Like Us (1943) is a personal favourite of mine even though it falls into the description of a propaganda film. It was made shortly after the wartime government introduced female conscription for single women between 21 and 30 and one of the options was to work in a factory- and this film celebrates those women (and men).
The film starts by centring on the working class Crowson family. The nominal head of the household is Moore Marriott (Will Hay’s old comedy partner) who has joined the Home Guard, of his two daughters still living at home, Phyllis (Joy Shelton) joins the ATS whilst Celia (the always excellent Patricia Roc) is wanted by her father just to stay at home to look after him, but she wants to join the more glamorous WAAFs.
Once at the factory, Celia although initially resenting the place comes to like the camaraderie and starts to meet people from different walks of life. They include the very stroppy and upper middle class Jennifer (Anne Crawford) who really hates the work (it is clearly below her class) and she ends up in dispute with her tough boss and Northern and very working class Charlie(Eric Portman)- needless to say that they end up falling in love with each over- there’s communal spirit for you.
Celia’s main emotional support comes from the very solid and sensible Gwen (the ever excellent Meg Jenkins) who keeps her together especially after Celia’s romance with a young airman Fred (a very young Gordon Jackson) where they have a very short lived marriage.
The inevitable happens as it does in wartime and Celia like so many women is widowed and broken but is supported by her friends at the factory and her knowledge that she and everyone must ‘fight the good fight’.
Millions Like Us is a very emotional film now but you can imagine its impact for wartime audiences who would all have known people like that. The final scene in the factory just after Celia is given the news of Fred’s demise and when the song ‘Waiting at the Church’ (played at hers and Fred’s wedding reception) is played again as Fred’s squadron fly over their factory as she is about to break down is very powerful and stirring stuff.
In retrospect, you can see how strong a propaganda film Millions Like Us is – everyone from Britain is represented on screen. Celia is working class, Fred is Scottish, Gwen is Welsh, you have characters from the North (Charlie), and the focus of the relationship between the snobbish Jennifer and working class Charlie is how the communities that they come from can come together after the war – rather than just survive it.
The film was made by the stalwart writing and directing team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder who are perhaps better known for their involvement in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and they –for a propaganda film – produced a fine film. Millions Like Us is also very funny- Moore Marriot knows good comedy inside out and the early scenes between his exasperated father and his two daughters are very funny indeed. There is also a moment for a very brief cameo by one of British cinema’s finest double acts –that of Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne as the upper middle class officers Charters and Caldicott complaining at the state of the beach during wartime.
Far more than a mere propaganda film, Millions Like Us is an excellent pictorial of life on the home front during WWII and is essential viewing.