Miracle in Soho

UK 1957, 98 mins
Director: Julian Amyes

In a Rank publicity hand out, Emeric Pressburger summarised his intentions of Miracle in Soho: ‘The more I saw of the district the more extraordinary it began to appear to me. But soon I noticed that, as with most places in the world today, the unusual events and happenings of life were taken for granted. Then I began to realise that no matter how commonplace a thing might be there are always one or two people closer to the events who see it in a different light. For them these ordinary happenings are small daily miracles.’ (Paraphrased from Kevin Macdonald’s book, Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter, Faber and Faber, 1994)

Pressburger’s script for the film was written in 1934 as The Miracle in St. Anthony’s Lane and existed largely as a lucrative unfilmed story. Despite constant selling and re-selling during the 1930s, the script found itself in Pressburger’s touting suitcase as an unrealised project, until 22 years later. At the time, it was the first project Pressburger made without Powell in five years but went on to mark the beginning of the final split between the Archers.

The film is of great interest because of this combination of production history and the ambition of the drama. Nowhere is this combination signified greater than in the setting of the film: the busy street in Soho and its population of émigrés. Carmen Dillon designed the sets for the production and through them brought out the lively character of the district. The production, filmed in only eight weeks was dominated by Dillon’s huge street set in Stage A at Pinewood. Almost two thirds of the action reputedly occurred on this set, forming a suitable feeling of the community and the importance of the street locale to the running of their lives. The sets were initially criticised for their lack of authenticity, a complaint often hailed in a time when ‘social realism’ was taking hold. But Pressburger’s script favours a more ‘poetic’ tinge to the realism. His story is about the magic that comes in the everyday and the colourful sets helped draw this out.

Almost all the main people in the cast are characterised by their familial relationships and their success in love. But Pressburger’s script questions these relationships on two levels. Initially, we are introduced to the two romantic leads, whose family lives differ greatly. Julia Gozzi (Belinda Lee) comes from a close family unit who are planning to emigrate to Canada en masse, despite the fact that the children are now adults. Julia, more than anyone, longs for the family to stay together. In contrast to this, her lover Michael Morgan (a cheeky but likeable John Gregson) comes from a father-son relationship that is strained and awkward. The two find a love that depends on their being close to one another, and when Morgan’s work is finished, the relationship is over. But beyond this idea of togetherness, dramatised through the love between Julia and Michael and emphasised through the use of the street set, the script hints at a state of unity that transcends the physical. It is this spiritual ‘miracle’ that the film celebrates, a spiritual quality that may also be cynically understood as a shrewd marketing ploy.

Raymond Durgnat in A Mirror for England classifies this film in a cycle of religious films. He comments that Rank’s religious Methodism was complicated by a bid to appeal to a Catholic audience. The film came at a time when the importance of the international market was of increasing value to the Rank organisation. The wide diversity of nationalities in the film may be attributed to the profitable Italian market, an appealing market to our shrinking domestic industry that was downsizing due to the onset of television and changes in the regular audience.

In light of these cynical marketing ploys, it seems bizarre that the athletic girl from Budleigh Salterton, Devon, should be playing a fragile Italian. Indeed, her performance lies in the starkest contrast to the busty girl associated with most of her photos and off-set appearances. Despite some acknowledgement of the disparity between Lee’s look and the image of the character, most reviews were favourable, the Monthly Film Bulletin even being taken by a certain charm in her performance.

The conservatism Lee displays in this role was ironic in light of the shape of her developing career in the years that followed this film. Later in 1957 she was loaned to Italy to film La venere di Cheronea (Aphrodite Goddess of Love), a move that eventually marked a shift in the development of her career. Whilst there, she began a passionate affair with Vatican official Prince Filippo Orsini, which resulted in a huge scandal and ultimately the termination of her Rank contract.
Dylan Cave, BFI National Archive Curator

Pressburger sometimes saw his pension in the continual optioning of stories that went unmade. If they were turned down, as was his third novel, he relegated them not to the wastebin but to the drawer of his desk, where like wine, he would wait for them to mature. Sometimes he misjudged it and the ideas went flat, as with The Miracle in St. Anthony’s Lane, which he had written in Paris in 1934.

A few years earlier he had slept rough in a famous Berlin synagogue, planning to creep out just before morning service. Too late, he heard the congregation chanting, and crept down, only to be welcomed as a member of the quorum; the service had not started, and the sounds he had heard had been in his imagination. ‘Surely,’ he claimed, ‘a miracle.’ A René Clair-like idea, full of character, with a number of interlocking stories, The Miracle in St. Anthony’s Lane was another story of exile, only a step away from this anecdote. It reached the screen only in 1957, directed by Julian Amyes, converted into Miracle in Soho. Originally a story of the German exiles in Paris, it had now become one about Italian immigrants in London.

In England Pressburger’s original story had been widely admired, but no one wanted to make it and Powell thought it lacked ‘substance’ (a curious observation from the man who chose to direct Honeymoon). A postman is at the centre of the web of stories, linking the locals – but the miracle, if there is one, takes place in the church, when Julia (Belinda Lee) prays for her lover, the Lothario of London’s roadworkers, to return. The water-main explodes and brings him back.

Powell recognised it as too close to A Matter of Life and Death and didn’t want to tread old ground, but he might, just as readily, have thought it too similar to ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ or to Blimp. If A Matter of Life and Death was for Powell ‘the most perfect film’, he is talking about technical perfection; for Pressburger his finest script, although not his most personal one, is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, into which is introduced another component from The Miracle in St. Anthony’s Lane.

The ‘miracle’, the hopeless dream of a girl in love, is close to the shifts that Pressburger was making in his narratives during the 1930s and 40s: the question is less whether the ‘miracle’ is actually a miracle, conjured up by a prayer in the church, but more whether it exists in the imagination of a lovesick girl. Is it another case of the Indian Rope Trick, as with the Roger Livesey syndrome of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp? An event that only occurs for those who want to see or dream it in the first place? By the time that Miracle in Soho was made, in 1957, the central creative ideas had been plundered by the Archers and only the bones remained.
Kevin Gough-Yates, Sight and Sound, December 1995

Directed by: Julian Amyes
©/Production Company: The Rank Organisation Film Productions Ltd
Presented by: The Rank Organisation
Executive Producer: Earl St. John
Produced by: Emeric Pressburger
Associate Producer: Sydney Streeter
Production Manager: Charles Orme
Production Controller for Pinewood: Arthur Alcott
Assistant Director: Robert Asher
Continuity: Gladys Goldsmith
Written by: Emeric Pressburger
Director of Photography: Christopher Challis
Camera Operator: Austin Dempster
Editor: Arthur Stevens
Art Director: Carmen Dillon
Set Dresser: Vernon Dixon
Dress Designer: Julie Harris
Make-up: George Blackler
Processed by: The Rank Laboratories
Music Composed by: Brian Easdale
The Song ‘The Miracle’ Words by: Jack Fishman
The Song ‘The Miracle’ Sung by: Ronnie Hilton
Sound Recordists: John W. Mitchell, Gordon K. McCallum
Sound Editor: Arthur Ridout
Made at: Pinewood Studios

Production Secretary: Jeanette Green
2nd Assistant Director: Charles Hammond
3rd Assistant Director: Dennis Lewis
Assistant Continuity: Loreley Stephens
Focus Puller: Steve Claydon
Clapper Loader: Leon Davis
Stills: Norman Gryspeerdt
Portrait Stills: Cornel Lucas
1st Assistant Editor: Jack Gardner
Assistant Editor: Norman Wanstall
Chief Draughtsman: Terence Marsh
Draughtsmen: Peter Lamont, Michael Lamont
Music Conducted by: Frederic Lewis
Music Recording: Ted Drake
Sound Camera Operator: Ron Butcher
Boom Operator: Danny Daniel
Boom Assistant: Roy Charman
Dubbing Crew: Gordon K. McCallum, John Woodiwiss, C. Le Messurier
Dubbing Assistant: Graham Harris
Unit Publicist: Jean Osborne

John Gregson (Michael Morgan)
Belinda Lee (Julia Gozzi)
Cyril Cusack (Sam Bishop)
Peter Illing (Papa Gozzi)
Rosalie Crutchley (Mafalda Gozzi)
Marie Burke (Mrs Gozzi)
Ian Bannen (Filippo Gozzi)
Brian Bedford (Johnny)
Barbara Archer (Gwladys)
John Cairney (Tom Nichols)
Lane Meddick (Steve)
Billie Whitelaw (Maggie)
Julian Somers (Potter)
Harry Brunning (Ernie)
Douglas Ives (Old Bill)
George A. Cooper (Sid, foreman)
Cyril Shaps (Mr Svoboda)
Junia Crawford (Delia)
Betty Shale (Mrs Coleman, pet shop owner)
Richard Marner (Karl)
George Eugeniou (espresso owner)
Michael Collins (Michael, lorry driver)
Colin Douglas (supervisor)
Lucia Guillon (Dolores)
Gordon Humphris (Buddy Brown)
Fred Johnson (priest)
Freda Bamford (Mrs Mop)
Paul Stassino (Paule)
Lynn Tracy (tall girl)

Mr Witham (French black man)
Isabelle Lucas (French girl)
Andy Ho (Chinaman)
Eddie French (Berce, Johnny’s assistant)
Wilfred Lawson (Mr Morgan, Michael’s father)
Gisela Birke (Lottie, with telephone trouble)
Eileen Forbes (staff nurse)
Golda Casimir (Mrs Bellucci)
Rupert Puritz (German schoolboy)
Helene Bevan (dressmaker)
Anthony Sagar (Billy)
Peter Taylor (1st German on street)
Charles Ross (2nd German on street)
Joan Hooley (black girl)
Meadows White (Allan, postman)
Cyril Chamberlain (policeman)
Keith Pyott (house surgeon)
Mervyn Blake (man in mac)
Toni McDonald (1st girl)
Sheree Winton (2nd girl)
Marguerite Brennan (3rd girl)
Franklyn James (blind man with dog)
Frazer Hines
Peter Whitmarsh
David Franks
David Tilley
Ray James
Anthony Sadler
Leslie Slysz

UK 1957©
98 mins
35mm – A BFI National Archive Print

Rynox + Hotel Splendide
Mon 16 Oct 18:10; Fri 10 Nov 18:10
A Matter of Life and Death
Mon 16 Oct 20:45 (+ intro by Thelma Schoonmaker and Kevin Macdonald); Sun 29 Oct 12:10; Sat 4 Nov 15:00; Tue 7 Nov 18:10 (+ intro by academic Lucy Bolton); Sun 19 Nov 18:30
Farewell (Abschied)
Tue 17 Oct 18:40 (+ intro by filmmaker Kevin Macdonald); Wed 1 Nov 20:40
His Lordship
Tue 17 Oct 20:50; Sat 4 Nov 12:20
The Fire Raisers
Wed 18 Oct 18:40; Sat 11 Nov 12:30
Black Narcissus
Wed 18 Oct 20:50; Sun 22 Oct 18:30; Wed 8 Nov 18:15; Sun 12 Nov 18:50; Thu 16 Nov 20:50; Sat 18 Nov 20:50; Mon 20 Nov 20:45 (+ intro by author Mahesh Rao)
The Edge of the World + Return to the Edge of the World
Fri 20 Oct 18:20; Wed 8 Nov 20:30; Wed 15 Nov 20:50
The Thief of Bagdad: An Arabian Fantasy in Technicolor (aka The Thief of Bagdad)
Fri 20 Oct 20:30; Tue 24 Oct 14:40; Sat 28 Oct 15:00; Sun 26 Nov 12:00
The Spy in Black + Smith
Sat 21 Oct 15:30; Sun 29 Oct 15:30 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator)
The Boy Who Turned Yellow + Heavenly Puss
Sun 22 Oct 12:00
49th Parallel
Sun 22 Oct 12:20; Mon 6 Nov 20:30
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing!
Sun 22 Oct 15:10; Tue 31 Oct 20:40 (+ intro by film historian Ian Christie)
Mon 23 Oct 17:50 (+ intro by Miranda Gower-Qian, BFI Inclusion Lead); Mon 30 Oct 20:30
Red Ensign + The Night of the Party
Tue 24 Oct 20:30; Sun 5 Nov 14:40
A Canterbury Tale
Wed 25 Oct 20:20 (+ intro by academic Thirza Wakefield); Sat 11 Nov 14:50; Fri 24 Nov 20:35
Library Talk: The interior life of an archive: an evening with the Michael Powell Collection
Mon 27 Nov 18:00
The Elusive Pimpernel
Sat 28 Oct 12:20; Mon 13 Nov 18:00 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator)
Gone to Earth
Sat 28 Oct 18:20; Wed 22 Nov 20:45; Sat 25 Nov 17:50
Silent Cinema: The Magician + The Riviera Revels + intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator
Sun 29 Oct 15:00
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Sun 29 Oct 17:20 (+ intro by Kevin and Andrew Macdonald); Sun 5 Nov 17:45; Thu 23 Nov 17:45; Sun 26 Nov 14:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Stephen Fry)
Paths to Partnership: Powell + Pressburger before The Archers
Tue 31 Oct 18:30
Projecting the Archive: The Queen’s Guards + intro by Josephine Botting, BFI National Archive Curator
Thu 2 Nov 18:20
Twice upon a Time
Mon 6 Nov 18:10 + extended intro by James Bell, BFI National Archive Senior Curator
Talk: Philosophical Screens: A Matter of Life and Death
Tue 7 Nov 20:20
Talk: Centre Stage: The Leading Women of Powell + Pressburger
Thu 16 Nov 18:20
Ill Met by Moonlight
Fri 17 Nov 20:40; Sat 25 Nov 12:40
The Battle of the River Plate
Sat 18 Nov 18:20; Mon 27 Nov 20:30
Behold a Pale Horse
Sun 19 Nov 11:50 Wed 22 Nov 17:50
The Wild Heart
Sun 19 Nov 15:10
Miracle in Soho
Mon 20 Nov 18:10; Sun 26 Nov 18:30

Course: The Magic of Powell + Pressburger
Wed 25 Oct to Wed 22 Nov 18:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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