The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which has taken place on the first Sunday in November without interruption since 1947, has become yet another victim of the Covid-19 epidemic and has had to be cancelled for 2020.
To celebrate this famous annual event this year, there can be one choice of viewing, a film that is greater than even The Fast Lady or The Wrong Arm of The Law. The film Genevieve was originally spurned by Michael Balcon of Ealing Studios when he was approached by the director Henry Cornelius, financial constraints meant that Surrey had to double as Sussex for many sequences and the final scene of the two cars heading towards Westminster Bridge caused such chaos for other road users that the authorities threatened the crew with arrest.
But the result was one of the finest pictures in the history of British cinema – and one of incalculable importance to the old car movement. The plot centred on two veteran car owners who stage an unofficial race on their return from the London-Brighton rally for a £100 wager.
The limited budget meant that Cornelius employed up-&-coming actors rather than major stars to play the central quartet – Diana Sheridan and John Gregson as Wendy and Alan McKim, Kenneth More as Ambrose Claverhouse and Kay Kendall as his girlfriend Rosalind Peters.
The Veteran Car Club assisted with the choice of vehicles and so the eponymous heroine was a 1904 Darracq 10/12 Type O Roadster, while her rival was a 1905 Spyker 12/16-HP Double Phaeton.
Genevieve was released on May 28 1953 and there are countless reasons why it remains so unmissable 64 years later. It made stars of Kendall - and More, it features career-best performances from Sheridan and Gregson and, as with any great British film, the cast is little short of immaculate - especially Joyce Grenfell as the manageress of possibly the worst guest house in Brighton.
Then there is Michael Medwin (who is still with us) as an expectant father, Geoffrey Keen’s sardonic traffic officer and virtually everyone who has seen the picture has to turn away when Reginald Beckwith’s Allard K1 is pranged.
As Cornelius extensively shot on location the narrative captures a landscape that now looks impossibly remote. There was no back projection for the driving scenes and our heroes travel through a London and Home Counties of oblong road signs, police constables on point duty and newsreel cameras mounted atop Ford V8 station wagons.
Above all, Genevieve is an honest view of the world of old car; the writer William Rose was a UK-based American who brought an outsider’s affectionate perspective to the story. The cars are prone to mechanical failure at the most inopportune moments and characters such as Alan, who frequently sulks and pays more attention to his car than to his partner, are very familiar to many a 2017-vintage classic enthusiast. It is no wonder that Wendy is so exasperated at ostensibly responsible adults "hawling like brooligans".
Today, the Darracq and the Spyker reside in the wonderful Louwman Museum in The Hague and Genevieve has been ranked as number 86 in the British Film Insitute's 100 greatest British films of the 20th century.
Personally, I would have awarded it first place on the strength of the scene of Kay Kendall playing the trumpet alone.
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