Fanny by Gaslight (film)

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Fanny by Gaslight
Fanny by Gaslight (1944 film).jpg
UK promotional poster
Directed by Anthony Asquith
Written by Doreen Montgomery
additional dialogue
Aimée Stuart
Based on Fanny by Gaslight by Michael Sadleir
Produced by Edward Black
Starring Phyllis Calvert
James Mason
Wilfrid Lawson
Stewart Granger
Cinematography Arthur Crabtree
Edited by R. E. Dearing
Music byCedric Mallabey
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release dates
May 1944 (UK)
1946 (France)
1948 (USA)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£90,000 [1] [2]
Box office$17,285 (US rentals) [3]
£300,000 (UK) [4] [2]
786,581 admissions (France) [5]

Fanny by Gaslight (US title – Man of Evil) is a 1944 British drama film, directed by Anthony Asquith and produced by Gainsborough Pictures, set in the 1870s and adapted from a 1940 novel by Michael Sadleir (also adapted as a 1981 TV serial).


It was the second of its famous period-set "Gainsborough melodramas", following The Man in Grey (1943). Its US release was delayed for its breaking the Hays Purity Code and 17 minutes were removed.

Stewart Granger later said he "didn't like" the film because of its "drippy characters" but thought "Asquith was much the best of those directors I worked with at Gainsborough." [6]


The story unfolds in Victorian London. Fanny is only 9 years old and is in the street with her young friend. They wander down to a basement, which appears to be a brothel and nightclub (Hopwood Shades). She is given a coin and then pulled out by Joe, her father's handyman. Back at home she is having a birthday party by her father (John Laurie). Her mother and father decide to send her away to boarding school.

We jump to her birthday in 1880, Fanny has finished at boarding school and returns to London. It is clearer that her father owns and runs the nearby nightclub and brothel and has a secret door in his house that links down to it, But he has no desire for his daughter to be involved in any way with the business. Only when her father is killed in a fight with Lord Manderstoke, is it revealed to her at the inquest that her father ran a brothel.

She is sent to work for the Heaviside/Seymore family far from her home. The husband Clive Seymore reveals he is her true father and he paid William Hopwood to look after her (it is implied he was a client). She is introduced to other servants as Mrs Heaviside's niece and given the name Emily Hooper. Her father takes her on holiday and gets to know her and wants to tell the world that she is his daughter.

In the idyllic countryside during the holiday she is painting by the lake when a dog spoils her picture. The dog belongs to Harry Somerford. They chat.

Back in the mansion where they stay the dog appears at her door. She looks out of the window and Harry is talking business with her father. He is a young friend of the father, who then has to return to London without her. She is now calling him "father".

Back at the huge Seymore house she returns to duties as a maid. One day a visitor Lord Manderstoke encounters her on the stair and recognises her as Hopwood's daughter. He is revealed as the lover of Mrs Seymore.

Mr Seymore reveals to his wife that Fanny is his daughter. She asks for a divorce to marry Manderstoke. Mr Seymore commits suicide rather than face disgrace.

Fanny leaves and goes back to home territory. Somerford is trustee to Mr Seymore's will and delivers property shares to Fanny. A letter reveals that Fanny was Seymore's daughter and also that he loved Somerford like a son.

Somerford's sister comes and tells her Somerford wants to marry her but it must not happen as it will ruin his reputation. Somerford appears and asks her to marry him.

In the final scene Somerford has been shot in the chest and Fanny and a physician are caring for him. The sister again appears and demands to take him into her own care. This could be fatal but the sister says she would rather he die than be with Fanny. He chooses to live.



The film was based on a novel published in 1940. [7] [8]

Phyllis Calvert and Anthony Asquith were attached to the project by October 1942. [9]

The film's release in the US was delayed over three years due to American censor concerns over scenes set in a brothel. [10]

Jean Kent played a Margaret Lockwood style role. [11]


According to Kinematograph Weekly the 'biggest winners' at the box office in 1944 Britain were For Whom the Bell Tolls, This Happy Breed, Song of Bernadette, Going My Way, This Is the Army, Jane Eyre, The Story of Dr Wassell, Cover Girl, White Cliffs of Dover, Sweet Rosie O'Grady and Fanny By Gaslight. The biggest British hits of the year were, in order, Breed, Fanny By Gaslight, The Way Ahead and Love Story. [12] [13] However, it performed very badly at the box office in the US. [3]


The film deals with themes of illegitimacy, social class, blackmail, and duelling. [14] [15] [16]

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  1. Murphy, Robert (2 September 2003). Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48. Routledge. ISBN   9781134901500 . Retrieved 17 December 2018 via Google Books.
  2. 1 2 Kinematograph Weekly. 19 April 1945.{{cite magazine}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. 1 2 Geoffrey Macnab, J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry, London, Routledge (1993) p164
  4. "Actor's Views May Bring Ban". The Sydney Morning Herald . National Library of Australia. 13 September 1945. p. 2. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  5. Box office information for Stewart Granger films in France at Box Office Story
  6. Brian MacFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema, Methuen 1997 p 230
  7. LIGHTS, SHADES, AND LADIES: A LOVE STORY IN OLD LONDON Brown, Ivor. The Observer (1901- 2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]05 May 1940: 4.
  8. "HOLLYWOOD LETTER". The Advocate (Australia) . Tasmania, Australia. 27 September 1946. p. 9. Retrieved 10 October 2018 via National Library of Australia.
  9. "Round the British studios". The Australian Women's Weekly . Vol. 10, no. 21. Australia. 24 October 1942. p. 10 (The Movie World). Retrieved 10 October 2018 via National Library of Australia.
  10. Breen's Nix. Variety. New York, NY. 7 May 1947.
  11. Vagg, Stephen (29 January 2020). "Why Stars Stop Being Stars: Margaret Lockwood". Filmink.
  12. Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 231=232.
  13. Reeves p.180
  14. Harper, Sue (1 June 2000). Women in British Cinema: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. A&C Black. ISBN   9781441134981 . Retrieved 17 December 2018 via Google Books.
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  16. Williams, Tony (10 August 2000). Structures of Desire: British Cinema, 1939-1955. SUNY Press. ISBN   9780791446447 . Retrieved 17 December 2018 via Google Books.