Tom Gilbey (Michael Wilding) is the butler to Lady Christabel Beauclark (Margaret Rutherford) of England, an eccentric bird-lover who spends her time campaigning for bird rights.
Gilbey is a third-generation butler, and a very good one. Lady Christabel takes him along wherever she travels. He hates visiting the continent, but reluctantly agrees to go along on her latest trip to Geneva.
Lady Christabel’s niece Joan (Penelope Ward), also on the trip, has a little bit of a crush on Gilby. But when war breaks out, Gilbey leaves the family to join the service. Will Joan’s unrequited feelings finally be returned when Gilbey comes back from the war?
Harold French directs 1944’s English Without Tears, also known as Her Man Gilbey.
English Without Tears is a somewhat slowly-paced film, but a sweet one, with nice romantic storylines and a generally light mood. It isn’t a riot of laughs by any means, but it does bring a few chuckles here and there.
An enjoyable-but-unremarkable film in most respects, there are a couple of stand-out elements, one being the use of Joan’s diary to share her feelings with the viewer and to show the passage of time during the war. This is an effective tactic which advances the story quickly, but is also fun to watch — not dissimilar from the good ol’ newspaper montages we often see in crime dramas of the ’30s and ’40s.
The performances are also good, especially that of Michael Wilding as Tom Gilbey. He brings the greatest number of laughs to the film once he returns home from the war. While I don’t want to spoil the story, I will tell you that he acts much differently upon his return. Once all-business and focused on being the very best butler he can be, he returns an anxious and somewhat bumbling man, ruled by his emotions rather than his dedication to work.
The pace picks up in the final fifteen minutes, wrapping things up in a conclusion that is much more exciting (and entertaining) than the rest of the film. (“Excuse me. Have you ever heard of a waterproof cat?”)
English Without Tears isn’t a stellar picture, but it makes for a nice little diversion and is, on the whole, quite lovable. The score: 3/5