The Man in the White Suit (1951) Alec Guinness

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The Man in the White Suit (1951) Alec Guinness

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The Man In The White Suit is a 1951 science-fiction satirical comedy film made by Ealing Studios. It starred Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood and Cecil Parker and was directed by Alexander Mackendrick. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing (Screenplay) for Roger MacDougall, John Dighton and Alexander Mackendrick (who was a cousin of Roger MacDougall).

It followed a common Ealing Studios theme of the "common man" against the Establishment. In this instance the hero falls foul of both trade unions and the wealthy mill owners who attempt to suppress his invention.


Sidney Stratton, a brilliant young research chemist and former Cambridge scholarship recipient, has been dismissed from jobs at several textile mills in the north of England because of his demands for expensive facilities and his obsession with inventing an everlasting fibre. Whilst working as a labourer at the Birnley Mill, he accidentally becomes an unpaid researcher and invents an incredibly strong fibre which repels dirt and never wears out. From this fabric, a suit is made—which is brilliant white because it cannot absorb dye and slightly luminous because it includes radioactive elements.

Stratton is lauded as a genius until both management and the trade unions realise the consequence of his invention; once consumers have purchased enough cloth, demand will drop precipitously and put the textile industry out of business. The managers try to trick and bribe Stratton into signing away the rights to his invention but he refuses. Managers and workers each try to shut him away, but he escapes.

The climax sees Stratton running through the streets at night in his glowing white suit, pursued by both the managers and the employees. As the crowd advances, his suit begins to fall apart as the chemical structure of the fibre breaks down with time. The mob, realising the flaw in the process, rip pieces off his suit in triumph, until he is left standing in his underwear. Only Daphne Birnley, the mill-owner's daughter, and Bertha, a works labourer, have sympathy for his disappointment.

The next day, Stratton is dismissed from his job. Departing, he consults his chemistry notes. A realisation hits and he exclaims, "I see!" With that he strides off, perhaps to try again elsewhere.

tags: comedy, drama, UK, 1950s

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The Man in the White Suit (1951) Alec Guinness