Hobson's Choice (1954 film)

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Hobson's Choice
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Lean
Written by Harold Brighouse (play)
Wynyard Browne
David Lean
Norman Spencer
Produced byDavid Lean
Alexander Korda
Starring Charles Laughton
Brenda de Banzie
John Mills
Daphne Anderson
Prunella Scales
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by Peter Taylor
Music by Malcolm Arnold
Distributed by British Lion Films
United Artists
Release date
  • 19 April 1954 (1954-04-19)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£206,579 [1]

Hobson's Choice is a 1954 British romantic comedy film directed by David Lean. [2] [3] It is based on the 1916 play of the same name by Harold Brighouse. It stars Charles Laughton in the role of Victorian bootmaker Henry Hobson, Brenda de Banzie as his eldest daughter and John Mills as a timid employee. The film also features Prunella Scales in one of her first cinema roles.


Hobson's Choice won the British Academy Film Award for Best British Film 1954.


Henry Horatio Hobson is the autocratic proprietor of a moderately upmarket boot shop (boots, shoes and clogs) in 1880 Salford. A widower, Hobson is a notorious miser with three grown daughters: Maggie and her younger and less-dedicated sisters, Alice and Vicky. All three have kept house and worked in their father's shop for years without wages, and Alice and Vicky are eager to marry, and their intentions infect Maggie. Alice has been seeing Albert Prosser, a young up-and-coming solicitor, while Vicky prefers Freddy Beenstock, the son of a corn merchant. Hobson has no objection to losing Alice and Vicky, but Maggie is another matter. He tells her she is too old for such things, "...thirty and shelved." While mocking her to his drinking cronies at The Moonrakers pub, he freely admits that she is too useful to lose.

Insulted, Maggie decides to marry Willie Mossop, the shop's gifted but under-appreciated bootmaker, despite the timid man having no such aspirations. When Willie informs her he has already been bullied into an engagement to his landlady's daughter, Maggie promptly puts an end to that – to his great relief. Maggie tells her father of her intentions and delivers her terms. Hobson attempts to intimidate Willie instead, by threatening to "beat the love out" of him with his belt. Willie declares he has no love for Maggie, but if Hobson strikes him, he will stick to her like glue. Hobson strikes him twice, and the couple walk out.

Maggie seeks a loan of £100 from Mrs. Hepworth, a very satisfied customer. When Mrs. Hepworth asks about security, Maggie says that Willie is the security: he is the finest bootmaker in Lancashire. With cash in hand, Maggie finds a basement that will serve as both shop and living quarters, furnishes it, has Willy buy tools and supplies, and arranges for the banns to be read.

Hobson feels Maggie's absence. Alice and Vicky are unwilling or unable to pick up the slack, in the house or the shop. The night before the wedding, Hobson storms off to The Moonrakers and gets drunk. Stumbling home, he falls through a trapdoor into the basement of Beenstock & Co., where he is found next day sleeping it off. Freddy Beenstock rushes to tell Maggie ... who gets an idea. When he awakes, Hobson is served with a notice that he is being sued for trespass and damage.

Maggie's sisters reluctantly attend Willie and Maggie's wedding at the insistence of their fiancés. The wedding dinner is held in the basement shop/home. Hobson arrives after dark to seek Maggie's advice regarding his legal woes. She manoeuvres him into negotiating with Albert Prosser, representing Freddy Beenstock. Hobson reluctantly agrees to pay £500 to settle the matter out of court. Only then does he realise he has been "diddled": the money will replace the marriage settlements Hobson refused to provide for Alice and Vicky.

Willie dreads his wedding night, but all turns out well, and he emerges a new man. The next morning, they make their first sale: a pair of bootlaces for one penny. Between Maggie's business sense and Willie's shoemaking genius, their business thrives. Within a year, they have not only paid off Mrs. Hepworth's loan and 20% interest, they have also wooed away nearly all of Hobson's upscale clientele. Under Maggie's tutelage, the meek and illiterate Willie is transforming into a confident man of business.

On New Year's Day, Hobson suffers hallucinations. Dr. MacFarlane diagnoses "chronic alcoholism." Maggie summons Willie, Vicky and Alice to decide who will return home to look after their father. Both Vicky and Alice adamantly refuse to do so. With no alternative, Hobson tries to get Maggie and Willie back on the old terms, but Willie will not settle for anything less than a 50-50 partnership, his name first on the sign, and Hobson relegated to silent partner. Hobson grudgingly accepts.

Willie wants to change Maggie's brass wedding ring for a gold one, but she insists on keeping it – to remind them of their humble beginnings.



Robert Donat was originally cast in the role of Will Mossop but had to pull out due to his asthma. [4] The outdoor location scenes were filmed around the Salford area, with Peel Park serving as the courting place for Maggie Hobson and William Mossop. [5] Interiors were shot at Shepperton Studios near London with sets designed by the art director Wilfred Shingleton.


Malcolm Arnold took the comical main theme for the film from his opera The Dancing Master. Throughout the film, it is linked to Hobson so often that he even whistles it at one point. Arnold wrote the score for a small pit orchestra of 22 players, and he enlisted the help of a Belgian cafe owner to play the musical saw for one pivotal scene. After a night of drinking at The Moonraker, Hobson is seeing double, and he fixates on the reflection of the moon in the puddles outside the pub. Arnold deploys the musical saw to represent the willowy allure of the moon, as the clumsy Hobson stamps from puddle to puddle, chasing its reflection. [6]


Box office

The film was one of the most popular at the British box office in 1954. [7]


In his New York Times review, Bosley Crowther called Hobson's Choice "a delightful and rewarding British film", and praised the performances of the three leads and its producer/director. [8] TV Guide gave the film four stars, characterising it as "a fully developed comedy of human foibles and follies with Laughton rendering a masterful, sly performance, beautifully supported by de Banzie and Mills." [9] In the opinion of Daniel Etherington of Channel 4, the "character interactions between the couple and the old bugger of a dad are fascinating, funny and moving." [10] His verdict is, "Displays the Lean mark of quality and sterling work from its leads. A gem." [10]


The film won the Golden Bear at the 4th Berlin International Film Festival in 1954 [11] and British Film Academy Award Best British Film 1954. [12]

Home media

Hobson's Choice is available on VHS (Warner Home Video in the UK), DVD (as part of The Criterion Collection), Blu-ray, and LaserDisc.

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  1. Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p503
  2. Variety film review; 3 March 1954, page 6.
  3. Harrison's Reports film review; 12 June 1954, page 94.
  4. "illness May Silence Donat's Golden Voice". The Sunday Herald . Sydney. 2 August 1953. p. 14. Retrieved 7 July 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  5. Anon. "Filming of Hobson's Choice in Peel Park". Salford Archive. University of Salford. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  6. Jackson, Paul R.W. The life and music of Sir Malcolm Arnold: the brilliant and the dark, pp. 45–46.
  7. Thumim, Janet. "The popular cash and culture in the postwar British cinema industry". Screen. Vol. 32, no. 3. p. 259.
  8. Bosley Crowther (15 June 1954). "Hobson's Choice (1953)". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  9. "Hobson's Choice". TV Guide. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  10. 1 2 Daniel Etherington. "Hobson's Choice Review". Channel4. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  11. "4th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  12. David Lean at Hollywood.com