Film of the Month

Women of Twilight (1952)

Unmarried, pregnant and with her boyfriend on trial for murder, a woman seeks refuge in the only boarding house that will accept her. But the house isn't the respectable place of safety she imagined.  

Women of Twilight has a tiny place in the history of British cinema as the very first 'X' film, back in the days when that meant adult rather than horror or porn. Certainly by the standards of 1950s British cinema, Women of Twilight is very adult. We have unmarried mothers, attempted murder, baby farming and lots more besides.

The original play was a hot property, having only opened the previous year and still running when the film went into production. Several of the cast it picked up on its journey from fringe theatre to West End were included in the film. Naturally the film was opened up, and that meant giving a large role to Laurence Harvey as the boyfriend diluting the original's all-female cast with a bit of "love interest" for the posters.

Freda Jackson had already carved out a place for herself in British cinema playing monstrous women, particularly in No Room at the Inn. Here she's magnificent as Helen, the queen of the boarding house, manipulating everyone into funding her respectable lifestyle. She's matched by René Ray as the woman with nowhere else to go who gradually realises the full extent of Helen's crimes.

As a full-on melodrama, Women of Twilight pulls a few punches but even with an X cert there were some things the censor wouldn't allow. The story of a rape gets downgraded to being "taken advantage of", for example. An act of violence is only heard. Childbirth is very much off-screen and abortion scarcely even hinted at. Still, enough gets through to deliver a kick to British cinema's respectable image.

Women of Twilight is not overtly campaigning for a change in attitude to unmarried mothers, but in documenting some of the worst horrors caused by society's attitude it makes its point. There's even a little subversive kick in the cheerful way Ingeborg Well's character goes back to Germany with her "little present" because life is so much better there. To British audiences still coping with post-war rationing, that little dig must have hurt.

Still from Women of Twilight     

Script adapt.: Anatole de Grunwald. (o.a. Sylvia Rayman)

Director: Gordon Parry

Players: René Ray, Freda Jackson, Laurence Harvey, Lois Maxwell, Vida Hope, Joan Dowling, Dora Bryan, Mary Germaine, Ingeborg Wells, Dorothy Gordon, Clare James, Cyril Smith, Betty Henderson, Ben Williams, Bruce Beeby, Marguerit Brennan, Katherine Page, Edna Morris, Dandy Nichols, Michael Corkran, Arnold Bell, Gordon Craig, Cyril Conway, Geoffrey Goodhart, Harry Brunning, Robin Dowell, Liam Gaffney, Roy Russell

Women of Twilight at Amazon UK