The Man in Grey

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The Man in Grey
Film poster
Directed by Leslie Arliss
Written by Margaret Kennedy
Doreen Montgomery
Leslie Arliss
Based on The Man in Grey
1941 novel
by Eleanor Smith
Produced by Edward Black
Starring Margaret Lockwood
James Mason
Phyllis Calvert
Stewart Granger
Cinematography Arthur Crabtree
Edited by R. E. Dearing
Music byCedric Mallabey
Distributed by GFD
Release date
  • 23 August 1943 (1943-08-23)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£90,000 [1] or £95,000 [2]
Box officeover £300,000 (UK) [3]
1,138,145 admissions (France) [4]

The Man in Grey is a 1943 British film melodrama made by Gainsborough Pictures; it is considered to be the first of a series of period costume dramas now known as the "Gainsborough melodramas". It was directed by Leslie Arliss and produced by Edward Black from a screenplay by Arliss and Margaret Kennedy that was adapted by Doreen Montgomery from the 1941 novel The Man in Grey by Eleanor Smith. The film's sets were designed by Walter Murton.


The picture stars Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, James Mason, Stewart Granger and Martita Hunt. It melds elements of the successful "women's pictures" of the time with distinctive new elements.


In London, in 1943, a Wren (Phyllis Calvert) and an RAF pilot (Stewart Granger) meet at an auction of the Rohan estate, now being sold off because the last male heir died at Dunkirk. The gems of the auction are two portraits, one of the 8th Marquis of Rohan, known as The Man in Grey, and one of his wife, Clarissa, a famous Regency beauty, with their son.Trying to make conversation with the Wren, the pilot wonders what the Rohans did to deserve all this wealth, then shows her a ring with the family crest. He bids on a Georgian trinket box that belonged to Clarissa, Marquess of Rohan, a gift for his mother, who believes that an ancestor received the ring from his beloved Clarissa. The auction pauses; they agree to return the next day. He is Peter Rokeby. The auctioneer addresses her as Lady Clarissa Rohan, the last of the line. They look over the contents of the box: a fan, a snuff box, a sewing kit, a wooden toy, and a prospectus for Miss Patchett's Establishment for young ladies in Bath. As they leave, the camera zooms in on the paper, then dissolves to a snowman and a bevy of elegant young ladies of long ago—throwing snowballs.

Hesther Shaw (Margaret Lockwood) arrives, in mourning. As a kindness to Hesther's impoverished stepmother, Miss Patchett will prepare her to be a teacher. Hesther is proud and bitter. She resents charity and even kindness. The naive and much-loved Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert) insists on being friends. A fortuneteller tells Clarissa of a prosperous future beside a man in grey, but says that love will come from across the sea. She warns her not to trust women, and refuses to say what she sees in Hesther's hand.

Months later, Hesther runs away with a penniless ensign. Miss Patchett forbids mention of her name, and Clarissa, out of loyalty to her friend, leaves the school.

In London, Clarissa's godmother arranges for her to meet the “man in grey” (after his grey clothes), the wealthy Marquess of Rohan (James Mason), a notorious rake, misanthrope and duelist. He marries her to get an heir, and they live separate lives.

One night, Clarissa rushes to a production of Othello in St Albans, rightly believing that Hesther is playing Desdemona. Her coach is waylaid by a mysterious man (Stewart Granger) who needs a ride. He turns out to be Rokeby, the actor playing Othello. Clarissa invites Hesther to supper after the play and, moved by her sad story, promises to engage her as her son's governess. Lord Rohan invites Hesther to stay on as Clarissa's companion, instead.

Rohan tells Hesther that he knows that she abandoned her husband and left him to die in Fleet Prison. He admires her ruthless ambition, and they become lovers.

At the Epsom Downs races and fair, Clarissa and Rokeby meet again. He wins the bird toy. They see the fortuneteller, who recognizes Rokeby as Clarissa's future and warns her again about dangerous women.  

Hesther offers Rokeby a position as Rohan's librarian. Rokeby perceives Hesther's plotting, but eventually confesses his love to Clarissa. They plan to elope to Jamaica, where Rokeby will regain his plantation. Rohan confronts them in Vauxhall Gardens, and the ensuing duel is stopped by the Prince Regent. Mrs. Fitzherbert persuades Rokeby to embark alone and wait for Clarissa's friends to insist on a separation. Clarissa pursues him to the port to say farewell. She takes his snuffbox as a memento. She is supposed to take refuge with Lady Marr, but she falls ill and is taken to Rohan's London house. Hesther drugs Clarissa, opens the windows on a storm and damps the fire—ensuring her death.

Rohan agrees to marry Hesther, but Clarissa's faithful page boy, Toby, reveals all to Rohan. Though he did not love her, Clarissa was his wife and a Rohan—so he beats Hesther to death with a cane, again fulfilling the family motto, "Who Dishonours Us, Dies."

In 1943, Peter and Clarissa are too late to buy the box, but they do not care. Hand in hand, they run toward a London bus and the future.



Original novel

The novel was published in 1941. The New York Times thought it was old fashioned but enjoyed the depiction of the era saying it created a "lively scene for a sad story." [5] The book was a best seller in the US, selling more than 100,000 copies in 1942. [6]


Margaret Lockwood later wrote that when she heard about the project, she read the novel and thought she would be ideal for the role of Clarissa. She was not pleased to be cast as Hesther, writing in her memoirs, "true, I had played that unpleasant little piece in The Stars Look Down after many misgivings. But Hesther was a different matter. She was downright wicked." [7] She says she was persuaded by Carol Reed's advice to not "bother about the number of pages in a part, but think about the motivation." Lockwood "didn't like the motivation - but it was a 'meaty' part." [7]

Lockwood says that James Mason's role was originally offered to Eric Portman who turned it down. [8] The climax was graphic for its time with Mason's brutal beating of Lockwood's cowering villainess using his walking stick.

Lockwood was the only one of the four leads to be a star when the film was made. She told a journalist at the time:

It is a part Hollywood would have given to a star like Bette Davis. I intend... to 'give it a go.' Its Regency settings are away from the war. It has plenty of emotional, dramatic quality, yet it calls for subtlety. It is a role I can handle well under English direction, for British studios don't concentrate on glamorising stars to such an extent that they become camera-conscious, thinking only of whether they are at the right angle to the camera. [9]

Lockwood said the second male lead was not cast "right up to the day before shooting began... lots of young men had been tried out, all unsuccessfully." [7] Stewart Granger was appearing in a production of Rebecca on stage when he was called in to audition. He says he had been recommended to the producers by Robert Donat, with whom Granger had just appeared on stage in To Dream Again. Granger was the last of the four leads cast and was paid £1,000 for 12 weeks work. "I'd have played the part for nothing", he later wrote in his memoirs. "It was such a chance." [10]

Lockwood said "as I watched him walk nervously across the set I knew instinctively he [Granger] would get the part.. He was rather an extraordinary young man in those days. He had what seemed to be an enormous inferiority complex, which came out sometimes in a flow of bad language, and at other times in round abuse of everybody, because he hadn't done his piece as well as we wanted." [7]


The film was shot in Gainsborough Studios. Phyllis Calvert was pregnant during filming. [11]

Phyllis Calvert later said Leslie Arliss was "not at all" responsible for the eventual success of the film:

He was a lazy director; he had got a wonderful job there and he just sat back... Ted Black was the one who would watch it, cut it, and know exactly what the audience would take. I don't say he wanted to do really good films, but he knew where the money was and he made all those escapist films during the war. [12]

According to Calvert, one time Arliss was late for a scene between Calvert and Granger so they directed themselves, and "Arlissing about" became a "Gainsborough byword for slackness." [13]

James Mason later described his performance as "atrocious". [14]


Box office

The film was a massive hit in the UK, turning the four lead actors into stars. [15] Phyllis Calvert later recalled it "had two West End premieres. It had one premiere, got terrible notices, went through the provinces and made so much money that it had to come back to London." [12]

It was the seventh most popular movie at the British box office in 1943. [16] According to Kinematograph Weekly it came after In Which We Serve, Casablanca, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Hello Frisco Hello and The Black Swan [17]

It was the tenth most seen movie of the year in Australia. [18] The movie was also successful when released in France in 1945 [4] and in Germany. [19]

In 1946 readers of the Daily Mail voted it their second most favourite British film of 1939–45. [20]

Screenonline wrote that it was "easy to see why" the film was so well received:

It caught the national mood quite brilliantly, by fusing elements of previously successful "women's pictures" such as Rebecca (US, d. Alfred Hitchcock, 1940), Gaslight (d. Thorold Dickinson, 1940) and of course Gone With The Wind (US, d. Victor Fleming, 1939) with a surprisingly distinctive formula of its own, blending authentic star appeal (James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, the then newcomer Stewart Granger) with a plot whose novelettish surface concealed an intricate labyrinth of contrasts and doublings: good against evil, obedience against rebellion, male against female and class against class. The ingredients of virtually all the subsequent Gainsborough melodramas can be clearly seen taking root here. [21]

The movie was one of several films from the Rank organisation released in the United States by Universal. It was not as popular in the United States.


The Monthly Film Bulletin called the film " an elaborately produced version of Lady Eleanor Smith's novel, which, while good entertainment, is not outstanding, except in so far as it shows a British studio's competence to make this type of lavish literary production which hitherto only Hollywood has been able to do with consistent success. Acting, settings, camerawork, and direction all reach the highest technical standards." [22]

Filmink says "[I]t was all done with intensity, conviction and flair and completely worked on its own trashy, melodramatic level... Lockwood, a delightful ingenue in comedies and thrillers and competent actor in drama, turned out to be a superb villainess in melodrama, all flaring nostrils, heaving cleavage and intense stares." [23]

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  1. Robert Murphy (2 September 2003). Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939–48. p. 55. ISBN   9781134901500.
  2. Kinematograph Weekly. 19 April 1945.{{cite magazine}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. "Actor's Views May Bring Ban". The Sydney Morning Herald . 13 September 1945. p. 2. Retrieved 4 March 2013 via National Library of Australia.
  4. 1 2 French box office in 1945 at Box office story
  5. Dean, Charlotte (1 March 1942). "The Bored Beauty: THE MAN IN GREY. By Lady Eleanor Smith. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co. $2.50". New York Times. p. BR24.
  6. Butcher, Fanny (30 December 1942). "BOOKS: 43 Books Top 100,000 Mark in 1942 Sales". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 14.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Lockwood, Margaret (1955). Lucky Star: The Autobiography of Margaret Lockwood. Odhams Press Limited. p. 98.
  8. John Howard Reid (March 2006). America's Best, Britain's Finest: A Survey of Mixed Movies. p. 154. ISBN   9781411678774.
  9. "MARGARET IS ON HER METTLE". The Australian Women's Weekly . Vol. 10, no. 22. 31 October 1942. p. 11 (Movie World). Retrieved 1 May 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  10. Stewart Granger, Sparks Fly Upward, Granada 1981 p 63
  11. Lockwood p 99
  12. 1 2 Brian MacFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema, Methuen 1997 p 110
  13. Sweet, Matthew (25 February 2000). "Film: For love? Hell no, I did it for money Frustrated by the British studios, Phyllis Calvert went to Hollywood. What followed was even worse". The Independent (FOREIGN ed.). London (UK). p. 12.
  14. "James Mason is not really tough— but will always be a rebel". The Australian Women's Weekly . Vol. 13, no. 49. 18 May 1946. p. 13. Retrieved 12 April 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  15. "GAUMONT-BRITISH PICTURE: INCREASED TAKINGS AND COSTS". The Scotsman. Edinburgh, Scotland. 15 November 1944. p. 2.
  16. Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939–48 2003 p 206
  17. Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 231.
  18. "News About Movies". The Mail . Adelaide. 12 January 1946. p. 8. Retrieved 4 March 2013 via National Library of Australia.
  19. "LONDON LETTER". The Irish Times. Dublin, Ireland. 28 November 1946. p. 5.
  20. "BRITISH POLL". The West Australian . Perth. 26 April 1946. p. 13. Retrieved 4 March 2013 via National Library of Australia.
  21. "The Man in Grey" at BFI Screenonline
  22. Review in Monthly Film Bulletin
  23. Vagg, Stephen (29 January 2020). "Why Stars Stop Being Stars: Margaret Lockwood". Filmink.