Children on Trial (1946)

This effective drama-documentary was sponsored by the Home Office as a study of the growing problem of juvenile delinquency.

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Film details


Director Jack Lee described Children on Trial, which he directed and co-scripted, as his favourite of all his films. Produced at the Home Office’s request by the Government’s in-house Crown Film Unit, it was made to publicise the justice system’s efforts to rehabilitate young offenders.

This was the first postwar example of the feature-length ‘story documentary’, in which a dramatic reconstruction of real events (or in some cases, a fictional narrative based on fact) is performed by their actual participants. The genre had proven a successful and popular vehicle for war propaganda, and the filmmakers who pioneered the format were keen to prove that it could tackle peacetime issues.

Children on Trial attempted to offset negative publicity about the criminal justice system’s handling of young offenders by demonstrating the progressive and liberal nature of the ‘approved school’ system, following the progress of two petty criminals as they are reformed. Critics’ reactions were mixed. Praised for its realist approach and for tackling a difficult social issue, but criticised for oversimplifying the debate, it had only a limited commercial life.

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