They Came to a City

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They Came to a City
"They Came to a City" (1945).jpg
Directed by Basil Dearden
Written by Basil Dearden
Sidney Cole
Based on They Came to a City
by J.B. Priestley
Produced by Michael Balcon
Sidney Cole
Starring John Clements
Googie Withers
Raymond Huntley
Renee Gadd
Cinematography Stanley Pavey
Edited by Michael Truman
Music by Ernest Irving
Distributed by Ealing Distribution
Release date
  • August 1944 (1944-08)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

They Came to a City is a 1944 British black-and-white film directed by Basil Dearden and starring John Clements, Googie Withers, Raymond Huntley, Renee Gadd and A. E. Matthews. [1] It was adapted from the 1943 play of the same title by J. B. Priestley, and is notable for including a cameo appearance by Priestley as himself.


The plot concerns the experiences of various people who have come to live in their "ideal" city, and explores their hopes and reasons for doing so. Many of the cast had also performed their roles in the original West End stage production. The film's art direction was by Michael Relph. [2] [3]


Nine people from different walks of life and class are brought to a dream city, to see how they react to a utopian society: Sir George Gedney, a misogynistic aristocrat; bank clerk Malcolm Stritton who is dissatisfied with the current political system, and his wife; Alice Foster, an unhappy waitress; Cudworth, a money-obsessed businessman; Lady Loxfield and her daughter Philippa; cynical free-thinking seaman Joe Dinmore; and Mrs Batley, a charwoman.


Critical reception

The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote: "Direction, acting and photography are all excellent, but the film is not true cinema as it is practically all talk and no action. Though the film is welcome in that it has a worthwhile motive, it gives little help as to how Utopia is to be achieved, apart from that most difficult of all things, universal friendship." [4]

Kine Weekly wrote: "Intelligently and artistically presented, competently acted and, within its bounds, elaborately staged, it is, nevertheless, no paltry pictorial pamphleteering. ...The tale cross-sections humanity effectively, but by leaving everything to talk – the workings of the brave new halcyon administration, which roughly repudiates what the author bitingly describes as 'the dogfight round a dustbin" life followed by most societies, are never witnessed – and displaying obvious political bias, it becomes a task rather than a diversion. J. B. Priestley tells the story, re-winds it in the middle and figures prominently at the fadeout, but the personal touch, at once both agreeable and formidable, fails adequately to compensate for its lack of movement." [5]

In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote, "as symbolism and an outlet for Priestley's philosophy, They Came to a City is eloquent and courageous, but as a motion picture it is immobile." [6]

In British Sound Films: The Studio Years 1928–1959 David Quinlan rated the film as "average", writing: "Uncinematic conversion of play; not box-office either." [7]

Leslie Halliwell said: "Good talk and good acting, but not quite cinema." [8]

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They Came to a City is a 1943 play by the British writer J.B. Priestley.


  1. "They Came to a City". British Film Institute Collections Search. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  2. "They Came to a City". 5 February 1945. Retrieved 30 March 2017 via IMDb.
  3. "They Came to a City (1945)". Archived from the original on 13 July 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  4. "They Came to a City". The Monthly Film Bulletin . 11 (121): 100. 1 January 1944 via ProQuest.
  5. "They Came to a City". Kine Weekly . 330 (1949): 26. 24 August 1944 via ProQuest.
  6. "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'Here Come the Co-Eds,' Lively Burlesque, is Presented at the Criterion, With Abbott and Costello in Chief Roles 'They Came to a City,' Film Made From a Priestley Play Depicting Haman Problems, Appears at Little Carnegie". New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  7. Quinlan, David (1984). British Sound Films: The Studio Years 1928–1959. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd. p. 250. ISBN   0-7134-1874-5.
  8. Halliwell, Leslie (1989). Halliwell's Film Guide (7th ed.). London: Paladin. p. 1009. ISBN   0586088946.