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A Place Of One's Own (1944)

There was a time when British horror films weren't exactly de rigeur (whaddya mean things haven't changed much? Oh…), and so the occasional supernatural tale slipped out under the disguise of something else - a comedy, perhaps or (as in this case) a whimsical love story.

Put it this way - A Place Of One's Own is never going to appear on Channel Four's scariest moments poll, but it is a story of possession from beyond the grave, and it does raise one or two sedate chills.

It tells the story of Bellingham House, which is bought by an elderly couple, the Smedhursts. On walking in through the door, Mrs Smedhurst wonders why the place has remained empty for so long, and they suddenly hear the communication tube give a whistle. Mr Smedhurst (an almost unrecognisable James Mason) picks it up and comments: "It was a woman's voice… sounded very far away. It sounded like she said 'send for Doctor Marshal'…"


"It was a woman's voice… sounded very far away. It sounded like she said 'send for Doctor Marshal'…"

To help Mrs Smedhurst, they decide to employ a companion - who arrives in the form of Annette Allenby (Margaret Lockwood).

At a party for the neighbours (who attend despite thinking that the Smedhursts are "new money"), talk turns to the history of the house and that it could well be haunted ("I thought everyone knew" / "By all accounts the Smedhursts are nobody"). The ghost is Elizabeth Harkness, the daughter of the previous owner. She fell for the local doctor but killed herself after he spurned her.

Smedhurst won't hear of such things, being a pragmatist - even when the evidence starts piling up. Annette suddenly gets good at playing the piano, people hear ghostly whisperings in their ear, and items of Elizabeth's jewellery turn up in strange places. To cap it all, history seems to be repeating itself, as Annette has fallen for the drippy local doctor.

The new incumbents then hear another snippet of local gossip - that it was thought at the time of Elizabeth's death that the servants might have killed her for money.

In the film's most effective scene, Annette is woken by piano playing. She wanders downstairs, but there's no-on there. The lid shuts with a bang, and something brushes past her, ruffling her voluminous nightdress. She then hears the ghostly voices of the servants, plotting to do Elizabeth in. Terrified, she runs back upstairs and starts hammering on the door of her/Elizabeth's bedroom…

As Annette starts to lose her health, the Smedhursts begin to realise that there might be something in all this gossip about ghosts, and formulate a plan to do something about it - and by the time they've resolved the problem, even Mr Smedhurst is a believer.

A Place Of One's Own is a bit too sugary sweet for my taste, but has its moments of paranormal chills. The ending, although you can see it coming a mile off, is well done and no worse or contrived than that of a hundred other supernatural tales. Lockwood is reasonably good as the mainly-terrified Annette, although why she falls for the drippy Doctor Selby (unless it's down solely to paranormal influence) is anyone's guess.

Added to this, Mason is in full-on ham-it-up mode, his youngish features hidden beneath a ton of "old man" makeup and a huge white quiff-n-sidies. Someone obviously told him "Smedhurst is from somewhere up North" so he proceeds to ladle on the northern-ness with a trowl, producing a variable accent full of "ees" and "bah gums". It's pleasing to note that his capacity for entertainingly naff performances didn't start in the 70s (Jimmy darling, we'd like you to play "slightly puzzled ageing army/navy/RAF officer" again, love), but was there all along.

Last updated: February 10, 2010

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A Place Of One's Own

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