Spare Time


Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

Spare Time
"Jennings had an eye for small moments that signal real life rather than something staged for the camera"

Spare Time is a paean to those moments that are completely our own - free from the responsibilities of the daily grind, spare time is "when we do what we like" and "the chance to be most ourselves". Humphrey Jennings' short film concentrates on people who worked in Britain's key industries - steel, cotton, coal - to show what they got up to away from the back-breaking toil of their employment.

This is often a communal experience - no one is captured in solitary contemplation - lived out in communal spaces. Dance halls, pubs, theatres and football grounds are the venues for collective enjoyment and likewise the transportive qualities of music are shown to be shared across all three industrial communities in the form of choirs, brass bands and children marching in formation. The film is a celebration of how people enrich their existences through their pastimes and define themselves through something other than work.

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But this isn't just about the crowd - couples fill the dance floors, go on bicycle rides together or exchange small talk in the intimate spaces offered by shop doorways, and there are several scenes of people in the comfort of their own homes, spending time with their families. Jennings had an eye for small moments that signal real life rather than something staged for the camera - a woman bends over in the middle of the dance floor to fasten the clasp on her shoe as other dancers twirl around her, and elsewhere we might spot a lad's anticipatory smile as his mum cuts into the pie on their dinner table.

Were these lives that were often depicted onscreen in that era? The leisure pursuits of wealthier classes are notable for their absence. In concentrating on people who had hard working lives - but not showing them at work in the foundry, mill, or mine - Jennings afforded them the opportunity of being represented as themselves rather than simply 'workers'. The film is available to view for free on the BFI Player.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2016
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A look at how industry workers spend their off-hours.

Director: Humphrey Jennings

Starring: Laurie Lee

Year: 1939

Runtime: 15 minutes

Country: UK


AV Festival 2016

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