The British Mass Observation was founded in 1937. Its aim was to record the daily experiences of the British people for social research. During the war many people volunteered and provided information on their everyday life. Nella Last, called Housewife, 49 in the project, was one of them. Her diaries have been published and are still widely read as they provide so much detail on the life in Britain during WWII.
I wasn’t familiar with any of this before watching Housewife, 49. Since I liked it so much I have meanwhile bought the book and hope to get to it very soon. As is often the case, the book is said to be much richer and to contain a lot more than the TV film still, I really liked this film. One reason why I liked it is the great performance of Victoria Wood. Wood, who is better known as a comedian, excels in this serious and intimate portrayal of a sad and depressed house wife who finds new meaning in life. Victoria Woods is also the author of the TV film.
At the beginning of the war, the middle-aged housewife Nella Last finds herself in a sad marriage with a narrow-minded husband who is as sensitive and communicative as a stone. He neither appreciates nor shows any interest in his wife. When her boys join the Army, not in active service, but still they leave, she joins the Women’s Voluntary Service. The women from the WVS are a bunch of conceited snobs. As most of them are upper class they refuse to accept Nella as a member as she is just a simple housewife. Luckily there are a few good women among the steel-hearted group members. Especially one of them becomes soon aware of Nella’s many talents. Being accepted by these women will help Nella to overcome her depression and gain self-confidence.
Something that fascinated me was to see Nella and her husband spend many nights in their basement in a Morrison shelter. I hadn’t heard of them before. They looked like cages and could be used indoors while the bigger Anderson shelter was to be used in the garden. Preferably dug in. Here’s a wikipedia article on air-raid shelters showing pictures. I was wondering how useful they were.
Housewife, 49 is a movie that works well on two levels. Besides offering insight into the life of British civilians during WWII, it follows one woman’s emancipation and search for meaning in life.
Unfortunately I didn’t find a trailer but the movie can be watched on YouTube. Watching part I will give you a good impression and help you decide whether you should watch it.