Love on the Dole

Our next film is “a very sordid story in a very sordid surrounding.”
So said the Censors in 1936, illustrating the nervousness about the project on moral and political grounds. Indeed when finally cleared 5 years later, the film was the first English feature to show British police wielding batons against the crowd.
Alty Film Club presents a rare screening of this seminal British drama starring Deborah Kerr as a Lancashire mill girl fallen on hard times, and Clifford Evans as the out-of-work labourer she loves. A tale of love and loss in Salford’s Hanky Park during the Great Depression, Love On The Dole remains a powerful and evocative work of social history.

Based on Walter Greenwood’s novel of 1932, the events he describes may be seen to have an inevitably grim resonance today: “From one and a half to two millions; an army in the shadows, delivered from destitution only by the payment of a meagre unemployment benefit; a shabby dispirited host, pawns in a game whose machinery had seized up. Of what all this meant in terms of human degradation and misery the newspaper chroniclers were silent. Their cry was ‘Crisis’… To arrest this, the prescription was ‘drastic economy’ which, in the event, meant that those who had least were to get less.”
The enduring appeal of Love on the Dole lies in the perceptiveness with which it presents working-class life through well-drawn domestic scenes and vivid characterisation. The performances are excellent, too. As the siblings, Deborah Kerr and Geoffrey Hibbert are a great contrasting pair. Kerr (in one of her first film roles) never sentimentalises by making Sally too easily loveable, while the baby-faced Hibbert is terrifically sympathetic throughout. As their parents, Mary Merrall and George Carney brilliantly sketch out the disappointments and frustrations of the previous generation, with their contrasting perspectives: “I suppose that’s what education’s like,” says Mrs. Hardcastle at one point. “Knowing a lot of things that don’t really matter.”

The film is not all doom and gloom, and the quartet of women – acting, as critics noted, as a ‘Greek chorus’ – provide comic relief. Their characters, in many ways, presage the gossiping Ena Sharples, Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhirst in the early Coronation Street.