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Pink String and Sealing Wax

Directed by Robert Hamer

UK, 1945

Studio Canal, April 2016

Pink String and Sealing Wax

These old British films – Robert Hamer’s melodrama is of a 1945 vintage – often let themselves down at the end.

It might be a desire to send the audience home happy, very understandable here for it was pretty grim post-war, in Year Zero. Or an anxious need to reaffirm the pieties after spending the bulk of the film giving them a bit of a bruising. Or simply a wish to tie everything up in a neat little package. All or any of these impulses might explain the close here, what with Pearl, Googie Withers’ once imperious femme fatale, taking a crumbling fall.

There is a lot to admire before that, mind, especially Gordon Jackson’s performance as David, a young man (yes, Gordon Jackson was once young) cowed by his father, who becomes fascinated by the beautiful and forceful Pearl. David seems to want this tavern landlady-cum-burlesque queen not so much as a flight for freedom or for what his father cannot give him (respect, esteem, tenderness) as for what his father has given him. A brutalising bullying, more of the same, albeit in an eroticised version…

Patrick Hamilton did not write the script for Pink String and Sealing Wax – it is based on a Roland Pertwee play – but anyway this is his world, a world of quotidian ecstasies and vagrant dread where vulnerable men are easy carrion, collapsed among the dark bottles of stout and pale ale. The spell holds you in thrall, up until right before the end.

Hamer’s masterpiece was of course Kind Hearts And Coronets, a film where he forsook the happy ending and transmuted all through irony and tone. Though not quite in that league, Pink String and Sealing Wax is still an atmospheric and accomplished film.

Pink String and Sealing Wax, a Studio Canal release, is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, details here.