Hobson's Choice (1954)

Directed by David Lean

Henry Hobson owns and tyrannically runs a successful Victorian boot maker’s shop in Salford, England. A stingy widower with a weakness for overindulging in the local Moonraker Public House, he exploits his three daughters as cheap labour. When he declares that there will be ‘no marriages’ to avoid the expense of marriage settlements at £500 each, his eldest daughter Maggie rebels.

It’s surprising that [David Lean's] Charles Dickens adaptations don’t engender the same level of critical adulation, and Hobson’s Choice [seems] of a piece with those films, with Laughton’s delightfully nasty Hobson as vivid a grotesque as the blustering Mr. Bumble and the loutish Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist. Laughton’s performance hits the exact right note of bullying patriarchy, with just a touch of the immature brat, a dash of almost feminine vanity [and] the secret insecurity that all bullies have deep down. He’s a fascinating walking paradox, his gigantic belly puffed out like some peacock, his lips curled as if bored by everyone, and the slump of his shoulders arousing pity; for all his talk of having a “stiff neck with pride”, he’s basically a little man who thinks he’s a big one.

Jeremiah Kipp (Slant Magazine)


As a cinematic craftsman, Lean surely related to this story of skilled Manchester laborers whose personal drives pursue high standards of material quality, moral behavior, and social esteem. It is Lean’s dramatic expertise and elegant workmanship that transform a crowd-pleasing formula of combative egos into a revelatory romance. [And] as the bedroom door closes on Maggie and Will’s wedding night, Lean transcends smirky innuendo; his slow pan left enlarges the tale, describing a house being put in order. No other romantic comedy has been more telling yet discreet.

Armond White (Criterion)


Even then, the [Salford] canal looked too clean and bright. We had to throw boxes of Daz in to make it look scummier.

— Co-writer and producer Norman Spencer (The Guardian)