Hurst Photo Portrait. Angus McBean. Copyright Harvard University.

Hurst Photo Portrait. Angus McBean. Copyright Harvard University.

Belfast's Bohemian of British Cinema

Belfast-born, Brian Desmond Hurst (1895-1986) was one of Ireland’s most prolific film directors of the twentieth century. He enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles in 1914 and survived Gallipoli, emigrating to Canada in 1920. In the 1920s he lived the bohemian life, loving and learning as an art student  in Toronto and Paris, New York and Hollywood, where he was an assistant and art director to the legendary John Ford in the silent period, even appearing as an extra in Hangman's House (1928) - seen left with the big hat below looking on. He went on to make over thirty films – mainly in the British film industry - between 1934 and 1962.

The Ulsterman made his home in London from the 1930s and quickly established himself in the British cinema industry alongside the likes of  Anthony Asquith, David Leen, Lance Comfort, Michael Powell and thrived in WWII.  By 1950 a review of contemporary filmmakers judged Hurst to be one of a small group of filmmakers ‘who have largely fashioned the shape of British film as we know it…their contribution as craftsmen has been the development of a recognizably British style'. His career petered out in the late 1950s and his last film was an adaptation of The Playboy of the Western World (1962) but he continued to enjoy a raucous, gossipy fame in Belgravia until his death in 1986.

His best-known films are Dangerous Moonlight (1941), Theirs is the Glory (1946) and Scrooge (1951), but he directed films across a wide range of genres. Over the past few years I have been researching on Hurst and published three essays on his life, his films and his unpublished memoir Travelling the Road. Two links are as pdfs and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a link to online.


Hurst as an extra (left in hat) in John Ford's  Hangman's House . (1928) Copyright Twentieth Century Fox Inc.    

Hurst as an extra (left in hat) in John Ford's Hangman's House. (1928) Copyright Twentieth Century Fox Inc. 


My Essays and Journal Articles on Hurst

‘Irish Exilic Cinema’ (2011) 

‘Brian Desmond Hurst’ (2014) - you will need password to access this online

The audio recording of my Inaugural Professorial Lecture, 'Memoir, Nation and Self-Narration' on Hurst's life and work -  given in November 2014 at Europe House, London - will shortly be available as a link here.