Life for Ruth is a film directed by Basil Dearden, a British director who started out with Ealing back in the ‘40s and gradually moved into doing social-justice movies. This included Sapphire, which addressed race, and Victim, which was about homosexuality and was the first English-language film to even use the word. This film comes near the tail end of his films in this vein.
This is about a father in County Durham, played by Michael Craig, who lets his daughter die because of his religious beliefs that oppose blood transfusions. The doctor, who is played by Patrick McGoohan, tries to get him done for manslaughter.
It’s an interesting movie, and McGoohan is really good in it. It was a fairly early part for McGoohan—he did two films back-to-back with Dearden, this one and All Night Long (a jazz version of Othello set in swinging London). At this point he was already a TV star with Danger Man, which may or may not be the prequel to The Prisoner.
Craig was a third-rung British actor, but in this one he’s quite good, as is Janet Munro as his wife (Munro also appeared in many Disney feature films). The story wouldn’t go the same way these days, as a British hospital would do a blood transfusion in an emergency, and go to court in case of a chronic condition.
Though set in County Durham, the film was shot mostly in Seaham (sometimes standing in for the city of Durham), Sunderland and South Shields. There is some beautiful photography that showcases the North East landscape, including the Salter Lighthouse in Marsden. It was shot by Otto Heller, an old-time cinematographer who started in 1918 and was behind such classics as Peeping Tom, The Ladykillers and The Ipcress File. Heller cut his teeth on the early days of German expressionism. The last minute of the film makes for an especially effective ending.
It’s nice to see the North East on screen in a proper film, and it raises some interesting questions that may be a little dated now but provide a time capsule of the time. Dearden is a director I rate over the kitchen-sink stuff that came later. He informed all of that, but his stuff is more old-fashioned, professional filmmaking and worth seeking out. He covered a wide range in his career, including comedies.
Special features include new interviews with Craig ad first assistant director Anthony Waye, an archive career retrospective interview with Craig, theatrical trailer and image gallery. It comes packaged with a limited edition booklet written by Neil Sinyard.