Film review: The Small Back Room



sbr picDirector: Michael Powell

Screenplay: Emeric Pressburger

Studio: London Films

Cast: David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Michael Gough, Leslie Banks, Robert Morley, etc.

Running time: 106 minutes


Background: Adapted by Emeric Pressburger from Balchin’s novel, the ending was apparently changed with the author’s blessing.


Verdict: This is by far the best film yet to be developed from a Balchin source. The script adheres to the novel very faithfully until the closing stages and large chunks of dialogue are lifted almost verbatim. The acting is superb throughout: as well as the principals, sterling work is done in the minor roles by the likes of Cyril Cusack as the stammering fuse expert Corporal Taylor and Anthony Bushell as Colonel Strang. Even further down the cast list, Bryan Forbes made his acting debut as ‘The Dying Gunner’ and a young Patrick Macnee is briefly glimpsed in a non-speaking role. The bomb disposal episode is of course the highlight of The Small Back Room (and is very well handled here) but the film impresses throughout thanks to its wartime veracity and careful attention to detail. The ‘giant whisky bottle scene’ has since become notorious (almost all the film reviewers of the time were united in their condemnation of it) but it is brief and one can fast-forward it if desired!


Praise for The Small Back Room:


“An exceptionally well-told story” — Dilys Powell, Sunday Times

“Unusually adult entertainment” — Daily Telegraph

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“An outstanding film” — Daily Mail


Rating: 9/10


Availability: DVD.