His Excellency – 1952 | 82mins | Drama | B&W
Colonial affairs were the theme of Robert Hamer‘s His Excellency, which had Eric Portman cast as the former leader of a dockers’ trade union appointed to the post of governor of a Artista, a British Mediterranean island colony. Adapted from a play by Dorothy and Campbell Christie, His Excellency retains a stagebound atmosphere. Itís other great fault lies in the way it wastes the theme’s potential in a glib and artificial treatment. At times the film is like an Ealing comedy that got away, with familiar stereotypes such as the ladies who form the clientele of the ‘Old Tea Shoppe’, and the governor’s staff. The governor himself tends towards caricature, retaining a shirt sleeves and braces attitude akin to a trade-union rabble rouser long after he should have made a transition to the respectability demanded by his appointment.
An industrial island, it finds itself further embroiled in a terrible fight over low pay and terrible working conditions. A strike ensues, but the new governor remembers what it feels like to be an abused working stiff and so refuses to call out troops to break the strike. He tries to use his experiences on both sides of the fence to mediate between the angry labourers, but it’s to no avail and the governor must make a difficult decision. The key scene has him facing an incipient riot and drawing on his experience of dockyard militancy to win over the mob and the admiration of the sceptical Britons. Not only is it wildly improbable, but there is something patronising and offensive in the tone, as though six years of Labour government in which many a working-class minister had sat in Cabinet with no lack of savoir-faire had passed by completely unnoticed. Robert Hamer returned to Ealing specially to make this film, but compared with the promise of his earlier work it is disappointing and marks the beginning of his decline.
Extract© George Perry: Forever Ealing.