UK Premiere: A Free Soul
Still from A Free Soul, part of Cinema Rediscovered

UK Premiere: A Free Soul

classified 12A

Pre-code Hollywood: Rules are Made to be Broken


Please note: This was screened in July 2022

Clarence Brown
Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore
94 mins, 1931, USA
Primary language

“It ain’t polite, baby, but it’s what ya want.”

The divine Norma Shearer stars as an independent-minded young society woman who has been trained by her defence attorney father (Lionel Barrymore) to live without restraint, and becomes trapped in a love triangle between the monied, kind Leslie Howard and the good-for-nothing rogue played by the delightfully evil Clark Gable. Her father, loving but consistently sozzled, successfully defends the gangster against a murder rap, not realising that his beloved daughter is about to embark on a lusty affair with the reprobate.

Penned by iconoclastic gossip columnist Adela Rogers St. Johns and loosely recalling her own upbringing, A Free Soul is psychologically complex and earnest in spite of its sensationalist leanings: a genuinely open-minded exploration of what happens to nice girls when they fall for the bad boy. Hard.

Words by season co-curators Pamela Hutchinson and Christina Newland. With thanks to Park Circus and Warner Bros.

Christina Newland is the lead film critic at the i paper and a journalist on film, pop culture, and boxing at Criterion, Sight & Sound, BBC, MUBI, Empire, and others. She runs an award-winning newsletter, Sisters Under the Mink, on the depiction of women in crime film and TV. Her first book, an anthology entitled She Found it at the Movies: Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema, was published by Red Press in 2020. She tweets at @christinalefou.