Growing up in West London to Indian parents Gurinder Chadha recalls being gripped by the depictions of England and Englishness in the films she encountered on television. As part of our Screen Epiphanies series for BFI members, Chadha joined Eddie Berg on stage at BFI Southbank to introduce This Happy Breed, one of her most significant formative influences. Not only a cinematic but also a cultural epiphany, Chadha talks about how it is one of a series of films including A Taste of Honey, Kes, Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home that opened up a more intimate sense of what England was and helped inform her own cultural identity.
This Happy Breed was adapted for the screen from the Noel Coward play by David Lean in 1944. Significantly though, the play was written in 1939 following the outbreak of war. Chadha highlights this as the reason the film has that strong sense of Englishness which so appealed to her. Coward was writing without knowing how long World War II was going to last and, she speculates, stresses what English spirit meant in this portrait of surburban life to reassure a country nervous about the coming conflict.
This Happy Breed helped to fuel Chadha's motivation to enter the world of film, driven by a desire to express ideas about race and racism that weren't being represented on screen. She says that there was always more a political than artistic will behind this and that she had a 'propagandist agenda' to put herself, or people like her, in the frame. Chadha is repeatedly drawn to females who want to follow a different path. She discusses how the strong autobiographical element in her work manifests as the tension between different generations and the friction that comes from the evolution in attitudes across that divide.