During and after World War Two films continued to be made. Many, like Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, were intended to be morale boosting productions. Others, like This Happy Breed and The Weaker Sex were stories of resilience and stoicism. The Weaker Sex was one of the most popular films of 1948, but is less well known today. It is a quite remarkable film.
The film’s theme is the choices and challenges women faced in the years during and immediately after World War Two. Specifically the story is set around a widow, Martha Dacre, are all serving in various capacities in the war effort. She has chosen to try and keep her home, in Portsmouth, together as she provides lodgings for soldiers in the build-up to D-Day. She learns that the Royal Navy ship her son is serving in has been damaged during the course of the invasion and he has been listed as missing. The story moves forward and she finds love and marriage again and the home she has fought so hard to keep survives and flourishes. In the Portsmouth of the time, a front line city as the headquarters of the Royal Navy and therefore subject to repeated and heavy bombing, is no easy task.
The story may have been set at a time when social habits and structures are different from our own time nearly seventy five years on, but in fact the themes that are explored are very much ones for our time, and indeed for all time. They are those of the choices individuals have to make in the context of their responsibilities and families, and living with the consequences. How to live in difficult and arduous conditions. How to build and maintain relationships. How to move forward and start new things. And how to support and nurture those you love, whilst enabling them to do their own thing.
The context today maybe different, although in essence not as different as we might think, but the substance of the film resonates today as much as it did then. This is an exquisite film, beautifully and movingly delivered by the cast and the script. At the time the New York Times described it in this way: “a thoroughly professional cast and an adult script make the drama genuine and trenchant.”
The archives of the British Film Institute hold many wonderful and interesting films across decades of film production. Those from the mid to late 1940s are often poignant, frequently resonate, and always inspire. You can watch the film online here.