First of the famous Gainsborough melodramas and the one so wildly successful that it spawned the whole genre in itself during 1940s, "The Man in Grey" is still eminently watchable costume extravaganza but what initially impressed me the most was the fact that wartime Britain managed to produce something so opulent that it actually almost matches "Gone with the Wind". And for the people who are supposed to be tight-lipped, reserved and class conscious, these characters are extremely passionate and wildly melodramatic indeed.
I have never, ever, in my wildest dreams expected that I would enjoy this as much as I did. The more I sipped my wine, the more everything appeared unbearably exciting, until I finished the movie pleasantly sloshed and convinced this is one of the best movies ever made in the history of the world. Naturally, the morning after my head is a bit clearer and with some embarrassment I realise that it all sound as I wrote the script myself at the age of fourteen (after too much coffee), though its perfectly clear why it appeal to wartime audiences so much - its a pure screen escapism, packed with sex, passion, jealousy and torment, it depicts people who are unhappy despite their wealth and it basically served lowbrow masses a cardboard, tinfoil pulp story brimming with titillating winks. The script (based on a novel by Eleanor Smith) pit British Scarlett O'Hara against Melanie Hamilton and its a very obvious fight between good and evil, dark haired beauty against blonde fairy princess, two archetypes representing opposite sides of social and psychological spectrum. We know who is good and who is evil, though both Margaret Lockwood and Phyllis Calvert have their redeeming qualities and story makes clear that nothing is completely black and white. Tons of what today we would describe as politically incorrect - little gibbering servant is obviously white boy in a blackface (?), eligible girls are paraded as mares on elegant balls that are nothing but marriage markets and forced into loveless pacts that allegedly bring them social status and happiness, adultery is accepted as long as is discreet, sex is used as a weapon, etc. With all of this - and probably because it unabashedly plays with it, the movie is still compulsively watchable and it deservedly made stars out of the actors, kind of screen equivalent of salacious bodice-ripper but a darn great entertainment.