Canadians sometimes  have an inferiority complex when it comes to their military history.  Recent developments notwithstanding, we seem to be ignored in pictures  regarding the Second  World War; likely because it is simply we were seen as being under the British.  It actually may be surprising to learn that we  were under our own command and  did our own slogging in Italy, Sicily and Europe.  The home front back in  Canada was different in that we were not close to the fighting.  We didn’t do  film of  our experiences, yet other  countries did.  This  British picture MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) is a lesser known work that attempts to articulate the home front during the Battle of Britain from the English working class point of  view with distinct style.

MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) was made by GAINSBOROUGH STUDIOS with Eric Portman and Patricia Roc on the poster.   The bulk of the story takes place between Celia Crowson (Patricia Roc) and Fred Blake (Gordon Jackson), which leads one to  think that  Portman’s name was put on the poster for  box office appeal and as per his contract.   The character he plays, shop supervisor and later love interest Charlie Forbes, is large.  Portman  almost made a career playing military personnel with his most famous role that of  Tom Earnshaw in ONE OF OUR  AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942).

MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) has a verisimilitude style as directors Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder give us a mix of staged moments and newsreel footage to  begin.    The story is of a  working class family, The Crowsons, whose lives  change due to conscription into service.   Celia Crowson (Patricia Roc) is the  quintessential  cheery, smiling girl that dreams of perhaps meeting a man.  Her older and more confident sister Phylis Crowson (Joy Shelton) goes to parties, dances, and smooches soldiers, even bringing them home to the parlor in the dark. Their widower father Jim Crowson is a hard working  man who, in the custom of the time, comes home wanting his food ready and his paper out.  He also enjoys going down to the pub. He borrows money from Celia to do in one scene.

Phyllis and Celia receive their call up notices, causing much distress for their father who is doing  his bit as a Air Raid Warden.  Celia is hoping to be selected  to go to the  Women’s Auxiliary Air force, but receives a posting to a factory making aircraft parts.  Phyllis gets  selected for the  Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps.  Celia has to report to the factory, and her father begrudgingly has to face this, yet pleads with  her to tell them that she has to stay home and take care of her father, who will have no one to make his meals.  Celia’s adventure begins when she goes to the factory sleeping quarters and meets her  roommates.  There she meets slightly loony Welsh girl Gwen Price (Megs Jenkins), who likes to sleep in her underwear as  “it only gets put back on in the morning.” Celia’s other  roommate is the vain, rich, Jennifer Knowles (Anne Crawford), who has the clothes, the glamour and the attitude of  a person working below their station.

Knowles dislikes the work that they are given in the factory to do; so much that she vocalizes it  to  manager Charlie Forbes, causing friction and  bickering.  While some  airmen from a nearby  base are touring the factory, Celia notices an airman named Fred Blake (Gordon Jackson). Shy eye contact is made but there is no chit chat.   At a  dance the  two of them connect in a shy, tender way by dancing, talking, smiling: a romance begins to blossom.  Fred Blake is a wireless operator who has only been training so far and  is  scared for what may come.  They have some warm moments of two  people that seem desperately wanting companionship but not sure how the other will react.

Jennifer Knowles,  with  style in clothes, hair and makeup begins a  less tender courtship with her supervisor Forbes. Their dislike for each other is shown when Forbes  deliberately snubs Knowles  for a dance as  she is walking towards him expecting it.  The two converse  with hint of  affection covered by a mutual dislike for each other.

The work life is drudgery. Long hours are interspersed with the inevitable air  raid warning. Knowles shows her contempt for the alarm as  she works her machine during a  bombing, making Forbes come and  drag her away from it during the  blackout.

Changes happen in wartime life, hence I have heard many people do not make many friends as they may not have them long.  The reverse is also possible as people cling to those  that they love or persevere due to loneliness or  fear.  MILLIONS LIKE US( 1942) follows those developments in Celia always with an inkling of  British resolve through the  tears and strife.

Patrica Roc strikes the right notes at Celia. She has a bright smile despite what is happening.  Her wardrobe is that of a  working class person with various house dresses and the head scarfed look of a factory worker immortalized  in the image of  Rosie  The Riveter.    Roc does  well with her lines, showing controlled emotion.  She was known as  ‘the archetypal British beauty’ and was at her height in these escapist dramas.

Gordon Jackson is perfectly cast as the shy  airman Fred Blake.  Jackson has a wholesome appearance,  and not over the top tough.   This combines for the right mix of  Blake and  Celia being ordinary people thrust together in difficult circumstances that find life and love. Jackson had a long career in film and television and is perhaps  remembered most for his role in THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963).

The  rest of  the people fill their roles well as we see actors Naunton Wayne (Caldicott) and Basil Radford (Charters) playing two buddies, exchanging rapid dialogue and adding color in characterization as  they both did in similar roles.   The  roles they play are continuations of those in NIGHT  TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940), minus the worrying about lost golf clubs.

MRS. MINIVER (1942) is the film many know in this  type of ‘bolstering the  people back home’ style, along with TENDER COMRADE (1943),  SINCE YOU’VE BEEN AWAY (1944), and THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943) .   MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) is not necessarily like that in many ways.  The picture  features real airmen, policemen, firemen and  factory workers in the large dance hall sequences interspersed with  actual footage of air raids  and factory life that do not look out of place.

MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) has been called a  propaganda film. This is unfair as it attempts to show a slightly  unvarnished  side of  heroic Britain.   The Canadian army in the Second World War was  dubbed ‘Cinderella on the left’ after Normandy as it protected the British flank during the march to Berlin.  MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) could be thought of  as that as it is still worth a look.  See if you can hear the film’s title in the picture.

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