1949, and it feels very much like a different century - one in which not only society and industry were different, but people's dreams allowed them to entertain stories that would get a much rougher ride today. David Shields (Gordon Jackson) is the young man from the highlands who leaves his claustrophobic family home to enter the den of iniquity that is Glasgow. He's to work in the shipyards, yet he dreams of becoming a designer. With his ambition, his hard work and determination, it's clear that nothing can stand in his way. He's ready to transcend class barriers and he even has his eye on the boss' daughter. It's corny as hell, but its sincerity is charming and it will appeal to those who want to set aside cynicism and enjoy an optimistic tale.

Park Circus has been doing a good job of recovering and restoring old Scottish films lately. This one opens with such clich├ęd rural characters that it plays like a comedy, but thankfully we don't spend enough time with them to get bored. Once we're in Glasgow there's much more going on. Those familiar with the city will love the fantastic footage of its streets and famous buildings in times gone by. There's a delightful scene in the Barrowlands where young David is taken by a colleague to learn how to pick up women. Here temporal distinctions fade; the music might be slower, the drinking more hesitant, but the game is the same as today. Coy smiles and swirling skirts make the women seem vulnerable at first but they're just as much players as the men are and our hero is soon out of his depth.

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True to the period, Jackson is slightly too old for the role of David, though he does have to carry it through several years. David is a withdrawn, slightly stilted character, very much a nerd, yet it's suggested that this may be his way of retreating from social issues he doesn't want to face. His brilliance, good luck and generous mentors may guarantee him career success but his journey is still an emotionally difficult one.

Is he betraying his class? Are there things his new middle class friends consider virtues that he would consider vices? It's convenient for him that his working class girlfriend dumps him before he has to dump her, but it's clear that he's thinking about it, ready to trade up. For all that she's stereotyped as manipulative and inappropriately sexual (something the camera doesn't mind lingering on) this can't conceal an unpleasant aspect to his character, yet we see flaws in other main characters too, hinting at a depth of personality and social interaction rare in films from the time. We may not always like them, but they are human.

The people this film will really appeal to, however, are geeks like David. Whether your thing is urban history or shipbuilding you'll find plenty to delight you here. The scenes in the yard, especially where models are tested, provide a fascinating insight into the practical side of the industry in its prime. There's a lot of exposition but it blends well into the rest of the script and fits the tone. Industry is the real star of this film. It's full of passion for building a better future and it may well prove inspiring to engineers just starting out today.

Reviewed on: 28 May 2011
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A young man from the country decides to go to the city and try and fulfil his dream of becoming a shipbuilder.
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Director: Frederick Wilson

Writer: George Blake, Donald B. Wilson

Starring: Gordon Jackson, Rona Anderson, John Laurie, Jack Lambert, James Logan, Elizabeth Sellars

Year: 1949

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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