The Man in the White Suit

The Man In The White Suit is a 1951 satirical comedy film made by Ealing Studios. It stars 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).

The Man in the White Suit
Original quad UK cinema poster.
Directed byAlexander Mackendrick
Produced byMichael Balcon
Written byJohn Dighton
Roger MacDougall
Alexander Mackendrick
StarringAlec Guinness
Joan Greenwood
Cecil Parker
Music byBenjamin Frankel
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byBernard Gribble
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
  • 10 August 1951 (1951-08-10)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

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.[2]


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.



Whenever Sidney Stratton’s apparatus is bubbling, or whenever he is thinking about his stainless fibre, the musical accompaniment to The Man in the White Suit plays a samba created from a series of recorded bubbles, gurgles, woofs, and squirts. These sounds were not made using traditional musical instruments but rather laboratory equipment.

According to promotional material at the British Film Institute, London, the music was a collaboration of director Alexander Mackendrick and sound editor Mary Habberfield. The bubble sound was obtained by blowing through a glass tube into a viscous glycerin solution. The two drip sounds were obtained by pinging two different-sized pieces of brass and glass tubes against the palm of the hand. The drain sound was created by air blowing through a tube into water and then amplifying the bubble sound through a metal tube. After Habberfield captured each sound effect, she mixed them in different combinations by trial-and-error until she found the leitmotif that would accompany Sidney Stratton and his bubbling apparatus in the film.[3]


The film opened at the Odeon Marble Arch cinema in London on 10 August 1951,[1] and was one of the most popular films of the year in Britain.[4] It earned rentals of $460,000 in the United States and Canada.[5]

The British Film Institute named it the 58th greatest British film of all time. In 2014 The Guardian included it as one of the twenty best British science fiction films.[6]

Stage adaptation

A stage play based on the film will be adapted and directed by Sean Foley and starring Stephen Mangan and Kara Tointon. It opened at the Theatre Royal, Bath in September 2019 before transferring to the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End.


  1. "Alec Guinness". Art & Hue. 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  2. Street, Sarah (2008). British national cinema. London: Taylor & Francis. p. 81. ISBN 0-415-38422-2.
  4. "The Queen Year's Leading Figure". Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) . NSW: National Library of Australia. 31 December 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  5. "Alec Guinness Now Money Star in US". Variety. 13 January 1954. p. 2.

Further reading

  • The Great British Films, pp 153–155, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X
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