Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Day Of One's Own

Our glance at the cinematic oeuvre of Ms Marianne Stone continues with her almost unheard-of starring role in the British Transport Films short A Day of One's Own.

Made to encourage the women of Britain (or at least those not employed outside the home) to set aside their responsibilities every now and then to make time for themselves (preferably involving the use of public transport), the film begins by showing us various women hard at work in the home (none of them fitting the Stepfordesque 50s housewife stereotype).

Marianne plays one of their number who's had enough of her husband and children's demands, and decides she needs a day off: "Too many women never take a day off," her voiceover tells us, "And look just at them.  They're like pieces of cloth that have been soaked in housework and never properly wrung out."

Dropping the kids off at a friend's she heads to Waterloo station, with no idea where she's bound.  "This is what I call my gateway to freedom.  It's where I have last minute afterthoughts about children and housework.  It's where I nearly turn back."

But she doesn't.  She queues for a ticket - "I wonder if these other women are having a day out, too" - and only decides when she gets to the counter that she wants a day out in the country: "Today I want to have something different.  Something I can't quite describe or put in a shopping basket.  An air of wellbeing, I suppose you'd call it."

As Marianne breathes in the country air that means a day of freedom, the (then) familiar tones of TV announcer McDonald Hobley take over on the soundtrack, as we're introduced to women all over the country taking time off from their busy schedule: a WI visit to Durham ("You'd be meeting each other in the party spirit, instead of over the garden fence while you were beating mats, or hanging out clothes"); a trip on a steamer to the isles of western Scotland; a visit to Pontypridd market; a day shopping in Manchester followed by a HallĂ© orchestra concert.  It all helps add a much needed ingredient of variety to these women's lives.  As Hobley sagely notes: "Many people seem to live in a kind of bleak isolation that needs melting down to help them live like human beings".

While not exactly a feminist tract (this is only a short break from the demands of home and husband), A Day of One's Own is supremely eloquent on a woman's need to spend time on her own or in the company of other women.  Its basic message is that Celia Johnson would have been much more fulfilled in Brief Encounter if she hadn't let that silly romance get in the way of her weekly shopping trip.  Well, sort of.  In contrast to its procession of married women, the film includes a brief vignette with lonely spinster Miss Robertson, who pays a visit to the gallery at Norwich Castle and makes a fleeting, heartbreaking connection with a fellow visitor as they mutually admire a painting.  It's one of the most English things ever committed to film.

As for Marianne, her day in the country, just walking and enjoying the scenery, with no demands on her time, has done her the world of good.  The film's most symbolic moment comes when she briefly takes off her high heels: "An excuse to wriggle and stretch my toes on the bare earth".

Her batteries recharged, Marianne heads home, picking up a gift for the children on her way. And we're left to marvel at an age when a parent could expect their child to be satisfied by a bundle of foliage.

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