Forgotten London films: Waterloo Road (1945)

Set contemporaneously, Waterloo Road expertly taps into the tensions between those called up for military duty and those who remained behind in civilian life. It stars John Mills as a soldier who comes home to south east London on leave to find his wife, played by Joy Shelton, apparently enamoured of local spiv, Ted Purvis. Mills has to go AWOL to separate the two and save his marriage.

Stewart Granger took on the role of Purvis, and takes to it with some élan – it was some way from the romantic leads he tended to be offered at the time, and he is clearly relishing the opportunity.
The whole film was reportedly shot in ten days, including quite a number of scenes in the Waterloo Road and SE1 area – almost all of which has now changed beyond all recognition. Like a number of these London films, it doesn’t wholly transcend the limitations that cinematic and other kinds of convention placed on it. But it still offers convincing characters and locales and, importantly, understands what social realism is, even if it hasn’t a creative vocabulary to articulate it yet. The casting of Alastair Sim as the local doctor, who doubles as the film’s narrator, is, I think, symptomatic of the problem.

Of particular note is the extended fight scene between Mills and Granger, which goes well beyond the usual representation of fisticuffs on screen in the period. Granger, it is said, was particularly proud of it, and rightly so.

Director Sidney Gilliat had an extensive career in partnership with Frank Launder ranging from the script for Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes to the four original St Trinian’s films. If that isn’t range, I don’t know what is. The pair were also responsible for London Belongs to Me, which I wrote about here.

Waterloo Road is available to watch on the BFI website here.

The other films I have written about under the Forgotten London Film series are: Night and the City, Pool of London, The Boy and the BridgeLondon Belongs to Me, No Trees in the Street, Run for your Money, The Happy Family, St Martin’s Lane, and Underground.

My brief introduction to the series is here.

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