“Though I wait for thee a thousand years, through waiting will I love thee yet the more. And though I fill an ocean with my tears, my joy will thus be greater than before. And this my prayer for evermore will be, that in the end thou will come back to me.”– from A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN (1945)
Autumn has arrived. It’s my favorite time of year and I eagerly look forward to the cooler temperatures and longer nights. As summer gives way to fall my appetite for things that go bump in the night becomes almost insatiable and nothing’s quite as satisfying as a good ghost story. As a result I’ve been reading a lot of spooky Victorian tales lately, which inspired me to revisit Bernard Knowles’ gothic drama, A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN (1945).
When I first watched A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN a few years ago I wasn’t fully engaged with the film and it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I knew I had to watch it again before I shared my thoughts on it and I’m so glad I took the time to reconsider this fascinating little British movie.
It’s important to note that A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN was produced by Gainsborough Pictures during the company’s final years. Bad business decisions, the stress of WWII and increasing competition from other studios such as Ealing, Pinewood, Denham and the powerful Rank Organisation had lessened Gainsborough’s ability to capture the British public’s imagination. In 1945 the studio was best known for making period costume B-movies with questionable morals held together by stellar actors such as James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger, Dennis Price and Patricia Roc. A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN was one of the studio’s less successful pictures but it’s one of their most interesting. It suffers from a low-budget, questionable casting decisions and awkward editing choices but while watching the film for a second time I was won over by its gentle Victorian manner, quick dialogue and intriguing plot twists. This unusual paranormal romance isn’t as polished as other exceptional supernatural films from the 1940s such as THE UNINVITED (1944), THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947) and THE PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948) but it has its own unique charm.
The film features James Mason as an elderly retiree who buys a large estate in the English countryside called Bellingham House. Soon afterward he hires a young woman named Annette (Margaret Lockwood) to keep his wife (Barbara Mullen) company while he’s busy running the property and enjoying his leisure time. The unlikely threesome develop a close friendship but their idealistic surroundings soon turn sinister when they start receiving strange calls on the house speaking tube (an antique intercom system) and Annette finds herself seemingly possessed by the ghost of a murdered woman who once lived at the house.
Annette’s budding romance with a handsome doctor (Dennis Price) is threatened as she slips deeper and deeper into a trance that develops into a serious illness. Is Bellingham House haunted or is Annete’s strange behavior caused by sexual frustration and repressed feelings? The film doesn’t leave much room for guessing but it’s open to lots of interpretation. Although I hesitate to call A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN a horror film due to its gentle nature, it is a supernatural drama and does contain some genuinely creepy moments. Including an especially memorable sequence where Annette is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of Chopin’s “Preludes” being played on the piano only to discover that no living creature is responsible for the ghostly music.
I like James Mason but he’s oddly cast here along with Barbara Mullen. Mason and Mullen were in their early thirties and they’re both playing characters in their late sixties while sporting bad makeup, wigs and in Mason’s case, some phony facial hair. Mason’s a great actor and he’s not particularly bad as the old Mr. Smedhurst but his performance is distracting and more comical than necessary, which lessens the impact of the film. A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN is filled with funny lighthearted moments but some of them work well. Particularly the banter shared between the house servants and local policemen but the humorous script (written by Brock Williams and based on a novel by Osbert Sitwell) often diminishes any suspense that director Bernard Knowles tries to build.
Knowles got his start working as a cinematographer with Alfred Hitchcock on films like THE 39 STEPS (1935), SABOTAGE (1936), SECRET AGENT (1936) and JAMAICA INN (1939). A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN was the first feature film he directed and while his inexperience might be evident at times, it’s also apparent that he knew how to scare an audience. A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN could have benefited from a bigger budget, a streamlined script and more age appropriate casting but Knowles makes it work with the help of his leading lady, the beautiful and charismatic Margaret Lockwood.
In the 1940s Lockwood was Britain’s #1 box-office star thanks to her exceptional performances in a number of thrillers and period dramas (THE LADY VANISHES; 1938) NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH; 1940, THE MAN IN GREY; 1943, THE WICKED LADY; 1945) and she’s wonderful here as a woman possessed by a lovesick ghost. The script asks a lot of the actress and she’s more than up to the task. The subject of spirit or demonic possession was relatively unexplored in movies at the time so Lockwood didn’t have many other performances to reference to refer to when she created the tortured Annette. Lockwood is especially noteworthy when she’s forced to slip in and out of character while fending off feelings of sadness, fear and duress.
I also enjoyed watching a young Dennis Price play Lockwood’s love interest. Price should be well known among horror fans thanks to his later performances in movies such as THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964), VENUS IN FURS (1969), THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), TWINS OF EVIL (1971), VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971) and THEATER OF BLOOD (1973). A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN was only Price’s second film and features his very first appearance in a horror movie or thriller. It’s doubtful that Price knew the direction his career would eventually take but it’s fun to see him tackling supernatural subjects for the first time here as a handsome romantic hero. Actor Ernest Thesiger (THE OLD DARK HOUSE; 1932, THE GHOUL; 1933, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN; 1935) also makes a brief but notable cameo appearance in the film, which should please horror aficionados.
If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned Victorian ghost story or gothic romance with a few surprising plot twists I highly recommend giving A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN a look. The movie is available on PAL DVD in the UK if you have an all-region player and can occasionally be found streaming on YouTube.
by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally published at TCM.com in 2015