Book Archive


Structures of Desire: British Cinema, 1939 - 1955. by Tony Williams

When the Professor and Area Head of Film Studies in the Department of English at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale writes a book about British Film, you know the subject is getting trendy!

Professor Williams' study of how desire (both material and sexual) was represented during and after the war is an interesting read. It's a mostly standard trawl through the subject: bit of pop psychology, bit of easy sociology - you know the drill by now. The films discussed are mainly the "usual suspects": Gainsborough, Powell and Pressburger, Ealing; though the occasional oddity appears. Very little comedy, but who associates desire with the likes of Hay, Formby and Wisdom?

What enlivens the book are Professor Williams' political opinions. He must be the last American Marxist (actually he's an ex-pat Brit). The introductory chapter gives us a potted history of Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci. Thereafter the text is littered with asides about current state of British and American politics. Take for instance the Dennis Price character in Kind Hearts and Coronets. He's described as having "a deceptively attractively dynamic aura (similar to the political masks of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair)".

Or how about poor old John Baxter? His "solutions are transcendentally sentimental in nature. Good feelings, community service, and benevolent feelings towards the less well-off in society are shaky foundations for personal and political growth as the reactionary victories of Thatcherism and New Labour show". 

Professor Williams can't resist taking a pop at his academic peers either. This site's hardly immune from that, but a swift glance at the index will find more references to Marcia Landy than Margaret Lockwood, and more to Sue Harper than Jean Kent and Greta Gynt combined. 

These faults stop Structures of Desire from being a definitive study on the subject. It's more like a section of conversation that's not been completed yet. No bad thing, perhaps, but the political asides mean this book is going to date quicker than a Steps single.

Structures of Desire

Pub: State University of New York Press

ISBN: 0 - 7914 - 4644 - 1

Price: 12.50, $20.95    

Structures of Desire available at Amazon UK

Structures of Desire available at Amazon US