6 Aug 2011

Ealing Studios celebrates 80 years of laughs

To mark the 80th birthday of Ealing Studios, The Lavender Hill Mob, first screened in 1951, is one of three films to be restored from its original negatives into high definition.

It is easy to view them with a whimsical nostalgia. Invariably the films feature an underdog scarred by a powerful authority, which he battles against the odds.

Post-war austerity was the backdrop to Ealing’s heyday and austerity is the backdrop today – which may explain why the films are still so popular.

The Lavender Hill Mob is about a mild-mannered clerk who devises a scheme to rob the Bank of England.

Dirt, scratches and warps have been removed from the films which carry hard social commentary under the surface of gentle humour.

That cynicism is captured perfectly in Kind Hearts and Coronets. It tells the story of an aristocrat – who has been disowned because his mother married into the circus. He murders his way through the family tree in order to inherit the dukedom.

The revival of such films is part of a growing fascination with everything from the 1940s and 1950s – a period suffering the consequences of war. Yet, in contrast to the current financial climate seemed to possess stability and optimism.

On Monday the remastered version of the 1949 classic Whisky Galore will hit the shelves. The wartime plot features Scottish islanders who gather forces to retrieve thousands of bottle shipwrecked whisky – all this, 60 years before David Cameron launched the Big Society.

Of course nostalgia aside, it may just be that the enduring fascination with Ealing comedies is their brilliant film craft and the fact that, ultimately, they are simply very funny.

Ealing Studios celebrates 80 years of comedy (Image: Getty)