English Without Tears

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English Without Tears
English Without Tears (1944 film).jpg
Opening title card
Directed by Harold French
Produced by Anatole de Grunwald
Written by Terence Rattigan
Anatole de Grunwald
Starring Michael Wilding
Penelope Dudley-Ward
Lilli Palmer
Music by Nicholas Brodszky
Cinematography Bernard Knowles
Edited by Alan Jaggs
Distributed by General Film Distributors (UK)
Release date
  • 28 July 1944 (1944-07-28)(London, UK)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

English Without Tears is a 1944 British comedy film directed by Harold French and starring Michael Wilding, Penelope Dudley-Ward and Lilli Palmer. [1] It was released in the U.S. under the title Her Man Gilbey, as a reference to the classic Screwball comedy, My Man Godfrey (1936). [2] [3]



An English aristocrat, Lady Christabel Beauclerk (Margaret Rutherford), is not only a British delegate at the League of Nations in Geneva but also a fanatical bird fancier. She takes a trip there with her nephew Sir Cosmo Brandon (Roland Culver), her niece Joan Heseltine (Penelope Dudley-Ward) and their faithful butler Tom Gilbey (Michael Wilding), who is reluctant to go abroad but is convinced to go by his father and grandfather, who are also butlers. At the League the party meet the Polish cartoonist Felix Dembowski (Albert Lieven) and the French romantic novelist François de Freycinet (Claude Dauphin), both of whom try to romance Joan - unsuccessfully, as she has a longstanding but unspoken crush on Gilbey.

Lady Christabel almost causes a diplomatic incident when other delegates misunderstand her request for bird sanctuaries as an attempt at British imperial expansion. As a result, one of the other delegates tries to get information out of Gilbey by having a Norwegian interpreter Brigid Knudsen (Lilli Palmer) seduce him. Gilbey awkwardly refuses her but is too polite to refuse taking her for a row on the lake. They suffer an accident and he brings her back to the hotel, causing Joan to become jealous. Once they are back in Britain she manages to admit her infatuation to Gilbey just before he goes to join the Territorial Army on the outbreak of World War Two, but he is unable to return it. He rapidly becomes a second lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps and goes back to visit the Beauclerk home in uniform - Lady Christabel has converted it into a club for Allied officers. There he finds a confident Joan teaching a large English class. He admits that he is now in love with her, but she replies that she is no longer in love with him - it had only lasted whilst he was out of reach but this no longer applies now he is an officer and a gentleman.

Two of Joan's language pupils are De Freycinet and Dembowski, who vie for her affections by trying to be her top pupil. Knudsen is also in London, giving extra lessons to De Freycinet. He also goes to the Foreign Office to meet Brandon to iron out problems with Knudsen's passport and her request to join the Free Norwegian Forces. Brandon agrees to assist but heavily implies that De Freycinet is having a romantic relationship with Knudsen - De Freycinet protests that it is merely platonic and resents being portrayed as the stereotypical amorous Frenchman. After seeking advice on seduction from some other officers at the club, Gilbey makes an unsuccessful pass at Joan. Brandon and Lady Christabel hope for a wedding between De Freycinet and Joan and send Gilbey to check on rumours that De Freycinet is having an affair - instead Gilbey finds him at his language lessons with Knudsen. Dembowski arrives to take up lessons and confront De Freycinet, closely followed by Joan, who is under the misapprehension that Gilbey has begun an affair with Knudsen.

Joan leaves Knudsen's flat in outrage. De Freycinet, Dembowski and Gilbey later go to the club together, intending jointly to confront Joan with the truth. However, cowardice prevails and instead they go to the club bar, drunkenly make up their differences and swear off women. Joan overhears this, gives up on both De Freycinet and Gilbey and decides to run away to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she becomes a shorthand typist. In 1942 she is given a new posting to a major in the RASC - this turns out to be Gilbey, who is now brusque, rude, demanding and de-humanized by Joan's refusal of him. He rapidly dismisses her, but the pair meet again at the club, where he apologises for his recent rudeness and she admits that she is back in love with him, now he is once again dominant and out of reach. He tries to contradict this but the pair end up kissing and she then drives him away in his army car.


Critical reception

In contemporary reviews, The Glasgow Herald felt the film suffered in comparison to Rattigan and de Grunwald's previously successful French Without Tears , and regretted the absence of director Anthony Asquith's "light, witty touch," but approved Wilding, "pleasant as the embodiment of the joke and Penelope Ward is charming as the trimmings to it. Roland Culver is beautifully suave in a small part, and Margaret Rutherford has a nice bit of philanthropic lunacy to do"; [3] whereas across the pond, Variety wrote that despite "admirable direction and excellent photography, the story ambles along to no definite denouement. Therefore it's not a strong candidate for the American market. Smart dialog and witticisms galore are not sufficient to sustain so elemental a love story." [4]

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  1. "English without Tears". BFI. Archived from the original on 13 January 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  2. "English without Tears (1944) - Harold French - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  3. 1 2 "English Without Tears". Turner Classic Movies.
  4. "Variety (August 1944)". archive.org.