This film is part of Rentals

They Came to a City

Long-unavailable Utopian fantasy (or 'socialist propaganda'?) - a true oddity from the wartime Ealing Studios.

Fantasy 1945 78 mins

Director: Basil Dearden


This idealistic wartime fantasy was one of the strangest films to be released during the glory years of Ealing Studios. Until recently it was also one of the hardest to see. Adapted by JB Priestley from his own stage play, it follows nine characters - among them a sailor, a charlady, an aristocrat, a businessman and a barmaid - drawn to the gates of a mysterious city. We have only their accounts to tell us what lies within: either an earthly paradise of equality and collective endeavour, or a hell in which individualism, personal profit and social status are cast aside.

Schematic and portentous, to be sure - but heartfelt and surprisingly fun, too - They Came to a City is a fascinating product of the tail-end of WWII, when Britain was asking itself what kind of a country it wanted to be once the peace was won. It's directed with conviction by the prolific Basil Dearden, and features Ealing regulars John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Ralph Michael and the great Googie Withers; Priestley himself appears in the framing sequence.