The Mark of Cain (1947 film)

The Mark of Cain is a 1947 British drama film directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring Eric Portman, Sally Gray, Patrick Holt and Dermot Walsh.[1] The film is based on the novel Airing in a Closed Carriage by Joseph Shearing, which in turn was based on the true life murder trial of Florence Maybrick.[2][3] It was made at Denham Studios with sets designed by the art director Alex Vetchinsky.[4]

The Mark of Cain
Directed byBrian Desmond Hurst
Produced byW.P. Lipscomb
Written by
Music byBernard Stevens
CinematographyErwin Hillier
Edited bySidney Stone
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
  • 31 December 1947 (1947-12-31)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


English industrialist Richard Howard (Eric Portman) visits Bordeaux , France to buy cotton for his mills from Sarah Bonheur (Sally Gray), He becomes enamoured by Sarah and spends much of his business trip sight-seeing. When his younger brother, John (Patrick Holt] arrives to close the deal, he also is attracted to Sarah, and after a whirlwind courtship, marries her.

When living a lonely existence in John's grand house in Manchester, England, Sarah confides to Richard that she is depressed by her marriage. Richard encourages her to divorce John and run off with him. Sarah consults a lawyer, but finally ignores Richard's advice, and somehow reconciles with her husband. Seeking revenge, Richard then poisons his brother and attempts to frame Sarah for the murder.

Dr. White (James Hayter) is suspicious of the circumstances behind John’s rapid decline, and after his death, Sarah’s purchase of arsenic casts suspicion on her. In standing trial for murder, Richard defends Sarah thinking he will win her love, but she is found guilty. Another suitor, Jerome Thorn (Dermot Walsh), is convinced he knows the identity of the poisoner, and comes to Sarah's aid.


Critical reception

In reviewing The Mark of Cain, Britmovie wrote, "... the story never catches fire, one reason for this is the heavy-handed direction of Brian Desmond Hurst which fails to maintain adequate suspense. Dermot Walsh and Patrick Holt overplay their roles and both were a promise never really to be fulfilled, but Eric Portman dominates the film in a barnstorming acting performance. Sally Gray is somewhat inconsequential and there’s no spark of chemistry between the leads."[5]

Film critic Allan Essler Smith wrote, "This powerful drama is an interesting example of a strand of late 1940s British cinema, but has been long neglected and not shown on British TV for many years, if at all. Set in the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras, it has excellent period detail and the sets effectively highlight Sarah's alienation and despair in the Howards's suffocating and gloomy household." [6]



  1. Murphy 2003, p. 161.
  2. Parkinson, David. Review: 'The Mark of Cain'." RadioTimes, 16 June 2016. Retrieved: 27 August 2016.
  3. Vagarian. "Dust & Corruption: Joseph Shearing's 'Airing in a Closed Carriage' and the Florence Maybrick mystery.", 10 December 2010. Retrieved: 27 August 2016.
  4. "Review: 'The Mark of Cain' (1948)." British Film Institute, 2016. Retrieved: 27 August 2016.
  5. "Review: 'The Mark of Cain' 1947." Britmovie. Retrieved: 27 August 2016.
  6. Smith, Allan Essler. Review: 'The Mark of Cain' (1947)." Retrieved: 27 August 2016.


  • Murphy, Robert. Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48. London: Routledge, 2003. ISBN
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