Ealing Studios had a way of always surprising you. Though their name may be most readily associated with comedy they were equally prolific in other genres, a favourite of which was social drama. A classic example of this was Dance Hall, which centred around the lives and loves of a group of young girls and the dance hall they frequented in Chiswick, west London. Directed by Ealing stalwart Charles Crichton, and edited by Seth Holt who would go on to helm the Hammer classic The Nanny (1965), this film starring Diana Dors, Petula Clark and Natasha Parry, showed the passions and rivalry inspired by ballroom dancing long before anyone had ever heard of Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly.
Eve (Parry) loves ballroom dancing and, along with her friends from the local factory, spends all her spare time at the local dance hall in the hope that with enough practice she will be chosen for the Greater London Dance Championships. However her boyfriend Phil (Donald Houston) is not such a hot hoofer, and becomes jealous when Eve joins up with a new partner Alec (Bonar Colleano). Phil persuades Eve to forget about dancing and marry him, but she quickly becomes disillusioned with life as a housewife and is soon lured back to the dance hall after meeting her old friends from the factory. When Phil discovers that she has been back with her friends and met up again with Alec, he looses his patience with his new wife with disastrous results for all.
Dance Hall is significant, not only in the cannon of Ealing Studios but also in the wider history of British film, as an exercise in social commentary both in its storyline as well as in its production. Set as it is so shortly after the end of the Second World War, the film is a piquant reminder of a time when the roles of men and women were very different from they are today. Eve and her friends may be independent in as far as they go to work and make their own way (even if their jobs are reminiscent of the factory work women did during the war). However once married (as is seen with Eve and Phil) their lives soon revert to the old scenario of the wife staying at home whilst the husband goes out to earn the money.
Less obvious perhaps is the way these stereotypical gender roles played out behind the camera. One of the film’s three writers, along with E. V. H. Emmett and Alexander Mackendrick, Diana Morgan was amongst only six women (mostly uncredited) in a production crew of thirty nine. Women were obviously seen on the screen in Ealing’s films, but they seldom played significant roles behind the scenes other than in the usual female dominated areas of makeup and costume. To be honest though, this male dominance in film production was not restricted to Ealing, as it was common throughout the film industry until more recent times.
Released by STUDIOCANAL on DVD with a host of extras including a Making of featurette, Restoration Comparison and Trailer, Dance Hall provides a nostalgic glimpse of a time when life, though harsher in many ways than it is today, was often simpler and more prone to happy endings.