Major Barbara (film)

Major Barbara is a 1941 British film starring Wendy Hiller and Rex Harrison. The film was produced and directed by Gabriel Pascal and edited by David Lean. It was adapted for the screen by Marjorie Deans and Anatole de Grunwald, based on the 1905 stage play Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw. It was both a critical and financial success.[1]

Major Barbara
Directed byGabriel Pascal
Harold French
David Lean
Produced byGabriel Pascal
Written byGeorge Bernard Shaw
Marjorie Deans
Anatole de Grunwald
StarringWendy Hiller
Rex Harrison
Robert Morley
Robert Newton
Music byWilliam Walton
CinematographyRonald Neame
Freddie Young
Edited byDavid Lean
Charles Frend
Gabriel Pascal Productions
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
  • 2 August 1941 (1941-08-02)
Running time
131 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


In this social satire, Barbara Undershaft (Hiller), an idealistic major in the Salvation Army, is deeply troubled by the fact that her father, Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley), is a wealthy weapons manufacturer. Meanwhile, Andrew is looking for an heir for his industrial empire, in particular a foundling like himself.



Major Barbara was filmed in London during The Blitz bombing of 1940. During air raids, the crew and cast repeatedly had to dodge into bomb shelters. The film's producer-director, Pascal, never stopped the production and the film was completed on schedule.[2]

Critical reception

In a contemporary review, Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times, "To call it a manifest triumph would be arrant stinginess with words. For this is something more than just a brilliant and adult translation of a stimulating play, something more than a captivating compound of ironic humor and pity. This is a lasting memorial to the devotion of artists working under fire, a permanent proof for posterity that it takes more than bombs to squelch the English wit. It is as wry and impudent a satire of conventional morals and social creeds as though it had been made in a time of easy and carefree peace. It is, in short, a more triumphant picture than any the British have yet sent across."[3] while more recently, Time Out wrote, "There is plenty to relish, notably Newton and Morley hamming it up (as, respectively, the rumbustious Bill Walker and the overbearing tycoon), and Deborah Kerr in her debut; but it does tend to just sit there. It was David Lean's first shot at directing, but producer Pascal helmed the bulk of it."[4]


Major Barbara was released on DVD by The Criterion Collection on 23 February 2010, as part of the box set George Bernard Shaw on Film.



  1. Valerie Pascal. The Disciple and His Devil. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.
  2. Gene D., Phillips (2006). Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean. University Press of Kentucky. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-8131-2415-5.
  3. Crowther, Bosley (15 May 1941). "George Bernard Shaw's 'Major Barbara,' at the Astor, Seen as a Triumph -- 'Lady From Louisiana' Presented at Loew's Criterion". Retrieved 10 June 2018 via
  4. "Major Barbara".


  • The Great British Films, pp 59–62, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X
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