The Happy Family (1952 film)

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The Happy Family
"The Happy Family" (1952).jpg
U.S. lobby card
Directed by Muriel Box
Written byMuriel Box
Sydney Box
Based onThe Happy Family by Michael Clayton Hutton
Produced bySydney Box
William MacQuitty
Starring Stanley Holloway
Kathleen Harrison
Naunton Wayne
Eileen Moore
Cinematography Reginald H. Wyer
Edited byJean Barker
Music by Francis Chagrin
Distributed byApex Film Distributors
Souvaine Selective Pictures
Release date
31 March 1952 (1952-03-31)
Running time
86 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Happy Family is a 1952 British comedy film directed by Muriel Box and starring Stanley Holloway, Kathleen Harrison and Naunton Wayne. [1] The plot of the film centres on resistance by a family to the disruption caused by the construction of the Festival of Britain. It is also known in the U.S. by the alternative title Mr. Lord Says No. It was an adaptation of a play The Happy Family by Michael Clayton Hutton. [2]



In 1951, the House of Lords is a grocery shop that sits on the South Bank of the river Thames close to the site of Festival Hall, which is noisily under construction. It is owned by the Lord family, a husband and wife with several children. Lillian Lord runs the shop, while Henry is a British Railways train driver who has worked on the railways for over 30 years and who is just about to retire. He is looking forward to enjoying a quiet retirement at the family shop, looking after his pet hare, Winston, though his spiritualist sister-in-law Ada has had supernatural visions of "men in black" bringing discord.

Their plans are disrupted by the arrival of Filch, a senior civil servant dressed in a black suit. He announces that he is overseeing work on the Festival of Britain, due to begin in just six weeks. He explains that, due to an error by one of the planners, the Lords' shop and house will have to be demolished to allow an entrance route to be built, assuring them that they will be financially compensated and will be moved to a new house in South Harrow. He expects this to settle the matter. However, the Lords are reluctant to leave their house, with Henry demanding £6 million if he is to move; an amount he calculates by Mr Filch's account of the estimate of the monetary value the Festival of Britain will bring. Filch goes away, hoping either to buy them off eventually or to forcibly evict them.

Filch has underestimated how attached they are to their property, which is a symbol of security and family to them after their years of hardship during the Great Depression and the Second World War, where they lost a son. In an attempt to halt their eviction, the Lords appeal to a series of politicians, including their councillor, mayor and MP. They are eventually sent to the official in charge of the work, who insists it must go ahead. They are served with eviction notices, and demolition is due to begin in a few days. However, they are undaunted, declaring that they would rather go to jail than South Harrow. When it becomes clear that their appeals from political channels are not working, the Lords turn to more active resistance at the urging of Cyril, their daughter's fiancé. They begin barricading their house and preparing to fight the government's attempts to turn them out. At the appointed hour, Filch demands they leave, but they refuse. They are joined by Maurice Hennessey, an ambitious BBC broadcaster hoping to use the case to further his career. He begins a running commentary on the events to the outside world.

Filch brings in a large number of police who attempt to storm the shop, but are driven off by missiles and flour bombs. After the assault descends into chaos, Filch launches a prolonged siege in the hope of starving them out. The Lords soon become a cause célèbre, with support coming in from across the world, putting further pressure on the civil servants who are desperate to get work completed before the Festival begins.

In spite of their popularity, the Lords' situation begins to grow desperate as they run out of food. Just as they are about to give in, Filch arrives and announces that, following the personal intervention of the Prime Minister, the architects have redrawn their plans and the road will now go either side of the shop, thereby saving it from demolition. The film ends with the family including Winston enjoying a day out at the Festival of Britain, with Ada flying into the clouds.



The film was released in the year following the real Festival of Britain which had taken place successfully in 1951. It was given a working title of South Bank Story which was later changed to The Happy Family. [3]

Critical reception

In The New York Times , Bosley Crowther called the film "minor whimsy...penned by that usually clever couple, Muriel and Sydney Box, and played by a cast of character actors who are among the best in the land...But the farce collapses painfully upon them long before the end, and what humor there is sounds so parochial that it belongs in earshot of Waterloo Road or, at most, beyond the range of the clumsily and tediously ridiculed B.B.C." [4] whereas, in a later review in the Radio Times , Sue Heal described the film as "an innocent, gentle lark, harking back to an infinitely preferable if somewhat mythically rosy era when officialdom was bumptious but owlishly benign, and the "Great Unwashed" behaved like a troupe of good-hearted medieval tumblers. Watch out for a youthful George Cole." [5]

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  1. "The Happy Family (1952)". BFI. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009.
  2. Hal Erickson. "Mr. Lord Says No (1952) - Muriel Box - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  3. Spicer p.148
  4. "Movie Reviews". The New York Times. 18 February 2022.
  5. Sue Heal. "The Happy Family". RadioTimes.