Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is one of the bestselling books of all time, with at least 28 million copies having been published in nearly every language. Its immortality was however secured by David O. Selznick’s 1939 film adaptation- winner of 11 Academy Awards, including the first for a black actor, Hattie McDaniel… although her character isn’t exactly… progressive.
It is an epic, almost operatic, saga set throughout the civil war and tells the tale of kittenish Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara, a girl so pampered that even to put her face in the sun is considered too tiring. She is in love with the self-consciously chivalrous gentleman Ashley Wilkes and near destroys the lives of those around her for his love when really she is more in love with the idea of being in love with him. And even that is with the ideal version of him.
Theirs is a relationship born of hate but really rooted in love. No matter how much they argue and throw things, they will never be able to escape from being each other’s perfect match.
MGM took a risk in casting Vivien Leigh as Scarlett- this was one of the most talked about and coveted roles in Hollywood to date and they chose an English nobody with the wrong colour eyes?! Handily changed in post-production.
The risk paid off however; the to-be-honest, slightly tepid tale of thwarted love amid the ashes of the old South leaps from the page to become one of the greatest love stories of all time because Leigh’s lively brilliance makes Scarlett believable!
Clark Gable unforgettably incarnates Rhett, but this film would be nothing without Scarlett.
Which is in no way saying that it is perfect: it’s disturbingly lenient to the Confederacy and does a sterling line in “happy slaves”. This film was released into cinemas at a time when there were still people living who had memories of the American slave trade and plantations. It is very recent history. Yet, grotesquely, the black characters are shown as being clearly better off under slavery and the war does nothing to help them.
Let’s also not forget the film’s insistence that a gentleman may feel free to assert his conjugal rights.
However, whether you are watching on a cinema screen, television screen or indeed, your laptop, the huge exteriors and skylines ablaze have a dreamlike, expressionist quality that radiates. Gone With The Wind was one of the first films to be made in splendid, expensive Technicolor. Granted, at times, even those beautiful skylines can seem a little formulaic but… not only is the film fabulous for it’s modern heroine and refusal to give a neat conclusion, it also does not shy away from amassing as many clichés as it possibly can. After all, you’ll like at least one of them, right?