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DANCE HALL, starring Petula Clark, Natasha Perry and a very young, still dewy-looking Diana Dors, is billed as ‘the 1950’s Strictly Come Dancing’. To be fair, it does feature couples dancing in a competition – however, it is actually a very charming romantic melodrama, unusually for the time seen from a pro-female perspective, centred round the life and loves of four working class women who while away their week looking forward to the epic Saturday nights they spend at the Chiswick Palais, dancing to the music of Ted Heath’s Big Band.

Directed by Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob, A Fish Called Wanda) and with a story by Alexander Mackendrick (Ladykillers, Whisky Galore!) Petula Clark is Georgie, who aspires to become a dance champion with her partner, Peter. Although the couple fail to win, they become romantically involved and announce their engagement at the climactic New Year’s Eve festivities. Meanwhile, Eve (Natasha Perry) jeopardizes her marriage to Phil when she chooses someone else as her partner in the big competition. After much drama and torment all is resolved happily (sorry, spoiler alert!).

British stalwarts of the time are present and give excellent performances, such as Sydney Tafler, Gladys Henson, Dandy Nichols and Jane Hylton. In addition there is Bonar Colleano in villainous mode and the briefest of turns for Kay Kendall. Possibly this was meant to be a bigger part but maybe the rest ended up on the cutting floor as she gets just the one spoken line at a time when she had become a true star.

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Well worth a look even if just to immerse yourself in a time when female workers wore couture atelier style labcoats on the factory floor, rather stylish headscarves and as a rule were in full slap with a Woodbine’s cockily stuck in the corner of a lipsticked mouth as they cheerily sang along to the latest tunes squawking from the wireless. The upbeat, almost clipped diction does sound a tad unrealistic at times – was this truly how working class Londoners spoke?! – but it’s all part of a glimpse into Britain as it were 60–odd years ago.

DANCE HALL
Studiocanal
Digitally re-mastered and out on DVD

Words Anna Bang

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