The Guinea Pig [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (26th July 2020).
The Film

“The Guinea Pig” (1948)

Note that “Public Schools” in the United Kingdom does not have the same meaning as it does in the United States. In the UK, public schools are what Americans would define as private schools, where there is a costly tuition fee, rather than the American English term “public school” meaning free schools funded and operated by the government. This review refers to “public schools” in the British English term.

A new social experiment is implemented by the postwar English Board of Education to integrate children from less fortunate families into public schools to see if a socially higher form of education would benefit the country’s children. Jack Read (played by Richard Attenborough) is a 14 year old son of a local tobacconist that gets the special scholarship to enroll in the prestigious Saintbury School, though trouble would attract very quickly. Headmaster Hartley (played by Cecil Trouncer) is not particularly pleased with the decision to enroll Read into his school and Jack’s peers are even less forgiving, constantly trying to bully him around and getting him into trouble. While he is alone in the whole ordeal, newly appointed house tutor Mr. Lorraine (played by Robert Flemyng) sides with young Jack and advises him to not give up on his opportunity being there.

A system to integrate differing classes into British public schools was never actually implemented by the government following the war, though there were discussions of restructuring the school system following the war. Though there were policies made such as the The Butler Act in 1944 and the School Milk Act in 1946 that helped less fortunate families seek higher education and provided basic school meals and milk. "The Guinea Pig" was originally a three act play by Warren Chetham-Strode, first performed in 1946 to great acclaim running for sixteen months. Using a realistic scenario of the present day period of postwar England, it looked at the divided school systems and how ideals may have changed or may change due to the war itself. “What if the government went ahead with a plan to integrate ivy league schools with the less fortunate?” was the basic idea of the play, and the screen adaptation made two years later would follow.

The new and short lived Pilgrim Pictures produced the film with the Boulting brothers directing and producing - Roy Boulting in the director’s chair and John Boulting producing. Some of the original theater cast reprised their roles from the stage. Cecil Trouncer and Edith Sharpe as the Hartleys and Robert Flemyng as Mr. Lorraine. Derek Blomfield who played Jack Read on stage was 25 playing a 14 year old, but the studio wanted a more bankable star. Richard Attenborough worked with the Boulting brothers a year before on the hit Brighton Rock, and was cast with his youthful looks for the part, even though he was 24 when cast. The character of Jack Read was not the atypical lower class street kid from the slums. He came from a background of two parents with the father (played by Bernard Miles, who also cowrote the screenplay) had his own shop and was from a loving background. There seemed to be no history of abuse or misconduct, and as it says through dialogue that Jack was chosen for the scholarship because of his promising academic level, so there is the fact of fairness for his scholarship. Coming from a good background, Jack is a fairly ordinary kid. He answers when asked questions and uses “sir” when addressed by someone older. He asks questions when he wants to ask something. He whistles at girls his age to catch their attention. “Arse” is part of his vocabulary. But when he enters a public school, manners and rules are completely foreign to him. And when he mentions his previous school as located “between the gasworks and the cemetery”, the other students become suspicious of his background. Attenborough plays the character with sympathy and intelligence, while also showing a vulnerable side when he breaks down in a pivotal scene, and one with street smarts with his actions and vocabulary. He may look and sound much too old for the part, but he is still able to do a fine job with the character and the situation. Considering that basically all the other kids in the school are bland bullies, he certainly stands up above the crowd.

While Attenborough may have been playing a kid, his wife in real life Sheila Sim plays Lynne, the girlfriend of Jack’s teacher and daughter of the headmaster. Her role is not very strong with the male dominated cast in the boys’ school, but is one of the few sympathetic characters in the story. Also sympathetic as mentioned before is the character of Mr. Lorraine, who suffered an injury during the war and must walk with a cane. He gives Jack the courage he needs to deal with the bullying but also one that gives him a goal to set for himself, by looking to furthering education and a career. Lorraine is the young and forward looking one, who fought alongside his countrymen in the war and saw no boundaries between class in the trenches. All were one at that point in history and he sees the future as that as well. Flemyng’s performance is good, placing an emphasis on care as well as someone strict in the education department, and also unafraid of having a physical handicap being any sort of hindrance.

“The Guinea Pig” is a positive note and calling card to the public school system as well as the class struggles that were being broken down. The story about the education system was in fact an educational story, opening eyes to the singularity of pupils, not breaking each down by upbringing or by status. The story does open up some of the absurdities of the public school system, from the near rituals or the emphasis on brotherhood by the students rather than the learning, but that is something that continues to exist. Not only with boys schools but films like the “St. Trinian’s” series including the remakes also have the cliquey vibe that puts strong emphasis on the camaraderie. The original story and film’s main goal of answering if a person of a lower class could make a difference if placed in a public school, it seems to be a basic “yes” rather than something more socially aware. There have been many films about outsiders trying to fit in at a new school whether it is the main plot or a subplot, and “The Guinea Pig” is good but not great. The rich kids at the school are basically one dimensional with only a few instances of attitudes of change being too minor. Looking from a twenty-first century perspective, it's easy to see that the school is exclusively "white", and there is also a divide between genders, showing a much longer way to go for integration. There is nothing of Jack truly proving himself in their ranks, and even the boxing scene seems to emphasize his toughness from the streets rather than something academically, or doing something to gain their full trust. Nothing life threatening or severe happens during the film and everything is kept at a safe level. The message is proven in the end but the moments leading to the conclusion never seem to be a huge revelation. The performances are very good by the leads, but the execution does seem slightly stale.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray / region 2 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. Two original 35mm nitrate duplicate positive elements held by the BFI were scanned at 2K resolution and reconstructed for this restoration. It certainly shows its age with flicker, scratches, and other damage marks, but the restoration has certainly cleaned up and stabilized the image to a very good state. Certain scenes show more damage than others, and the grey scale of the black and white film may not be too broad, though people that experienced the film though video or the older DVD will be in for a treat.

The film is uncut with a runtime of 97:49 on the Blu-ray and 93:54 on the DVD accounting for 4% PAL speedup.



















Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono (Blu-ray)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (DVD)

The audio has been restored from the original 35mm elements. Though restored, a minor hiss can frequently be heard throughout the film and there are some instances of audio pops in the track. On the positive side, dialogue is clear and easy to understand throughout. Music is also well balanced alongside the dialogue scenes.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font.

Extras

This is a dual format set with the film and extras on the Blu-ray in HD and repeated on the DVD is SD PAL.

Blu-ray

"Old School" documentary shorts (with Play All) (70:39)
- Audley Range School, Blackburn (1905) (1:23)
- York Road Board School, Leeds (1901) (2:46)
- Your Children's Play (1951) (20:04)
- A Letter from Wales (1953) (14:37)
- Comprehensive School (1962) (11:07)
- That's GCSE (1987) (20:40)

General Certificate of Secondary Education. Introduction of a new exam.
Presented are a series of short films dealing with education over the years in Britain, from the silent era all the way to the Thatcher era. The first two shorts, from Audley Range School in Blackburn in 1905 and York Road Board School in Leeds in 1901 are clips of students and a time capsule of the era from over 100 years ago that is fascinating even if there is not particular background besides children marching. “Your Children's Play” from 1951 is a Ministry of Health narrated short focusing on the imagination and progressive thinking of children. “A Letter from Wales” from 1953 is a Children’s Film Foundation short with a Welsh boy reading his letter out loud about his fairly quaint life. The narrated portion is in English and interestingly all the dialogue on screen at home and in school is in Welsh, left untranslated on purpose. “Comprehensive School” from 1962 is a fairly straightforward look at what comprehensive schools offered at the time. Interestingly this was made for schools in African colonies and was little if ever seen in the UK. Finally, “That’s GCSE” is a short that describes what at-the-time was the newly established GCSE examination was for the public in an infomercial type setting.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Make-Do-and-Menders" shorts (with Play All) (24:36)
- "When the Pie Was Opened" (1941) (8:10)
- "Bob in the Pound" (1943) (2:18)
- "In Which We Live Being the Life Story of a Suit Told by Itself" (1944) (12:45)
- "Make-Do-and-Mend" (1945) (1:22)

These shorts look at some public information films made during the war period. First is “When the Pie Was Opened” directed by Len Lye was not the typical instructional short on baking pie, but used surreal imagery, superimposition and editing animation for a fairly unique instructional film. “Bob in the Pound” is a short musical with karaoke style lyrics on screen, with the intention of having people save money for the war efforts. “In Which We Live Being the Life Story of a Suit Told by Itself” is an interesting short, about a man’s suit narrating about its life as a suit and seeing the owner grow as a man, a husband, and eventually a soldier at war. “Make-Do-and-Mend” is a short that emphasizes recycling of clothing during the wartime.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (12:13)
A series of behind the scenes photos, costume tests, accompanied by music by James Thomas is offered here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, LPCM 2.0


DISC TWO (DVD)

"Old School" documentary shorts (with Play All) (4:10 + 19:17 + 14:03 + 10:41 + 19:51)
- Audley Range School, Blackburn (1905) (1:23)
- York Road Board School, Leeds (1901) (2:46)
- Your Children's Play (1951) (19:17)
- A Letter from Wales (1953) (14:03)
- Comprehensive School (1962) (10:41)
- That's GCSE (1987) (19:51)
"The Make-Do-and-Menders" shorts (with Play All) (23:37)
- "When the Pie Was Opened" (1941) (7:50)
- "Bob in the Pound" (1943) (2:13)
- "In Which We Live Being the Life Story of a Suit Told by Itself" (1944) (12:14)
- "Make-Do-and-Mend" (1945) (1:19)
Image Gallery (12:13)

The film and extras in standard definition.


Booklet
A 24 page booklet is included in the first pressing. First is the essay “Bridging the Divide: Class and Consensus in The Guinea Pig” by the BFI’s John Oliver which discusses about the film and the education system. Next is “Creative Curiosity: The Boulting Brothers” by the BFI’s Corinna Reicher, a biography of the twin filmmaking brothers. There are full film credits, special features information, transfer notes, and acknowledgements that follow.


This marks the worldwide Blu-ray debut for the film, and though the extras are interesting, only the gallery is connected directly with the film itself. No trailer, no vintage interviews or new interviews with historians are included.

Overall

"The Guinea Pig" is entertaining with a socially conscious message with a fine leading performance from a young Richard Attenborough, but does not get very deep in the dramatic aspect as it could have. The BFI restoration looks very good and the set includes a very interesting selection of extras.

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B

 


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