Just because “dole” rhymes with “knoll” doesn’t mean it’s another word for “grassy hill.” I type that with confidence now, but I definitely went into John Baxter’s Love on the Dole (1941) thinking the title was British for “love on the hill.”

Which, to be fair, there is a lot of love in Love on the Dole. While Sally (Deborah Kerr) has her eyes on local unionizer Larry (Clifford Evans), her younger brother, Harry (Geoffrey Hibbert) is in love with Helen (Joyce Howard), who works at the cotton mill. 

Sometimes you know when you’re taking a stab at a word, so it’s not a surprise when the meaning turns out to be something completely different, but it wasn’t until hearing the word used in context that I realized how wrong I had been about “dole.” Even when the term is used in the film, Love on the Dole doesn’t provide a definition, and maybe it shouldn’t have to. As author Neil Sinyard explains in his essay for the booklet included with Indicator’s Blu-Ray release, British audiences at the time would’ve probably been familiar with Love on the Dole, from having read Walter Greenwood’s source novel or seen Ronald Gow’s play adaptation. For the film adaptation, Greenwood helped co-write the screenplay with Barbara K. Emary and Rollo Gamble.

“Dole” isn’t a term exclusive to the movie, though. It’s just one that US audiences (and Love on the Dole is one of the British Indicator’s US-only releases) might not be familiar with as meaning “unemployment benefits.” In other words, “dole” isn’t an airy, green setting. It’s a complication that makes the love in this movie strained and hard, as work in Hanky Park, pre-WWII, proves impossible to find, and offers no job security once earned.

Love on the Dole begins and ends with a prologue and epilogue that tries to paint this severe unemployment as a thing of the past, but it’s a small price to pay for keeping the rest of the film intact. As Sinyard explains in his essay, the prologue and epilogue were how the film was able to escape censorship. Love on the Dole is able to be brutally honest about what the Hardcastle family endures because, allegedly, those days are behind England. However, text can be ignored. The images and characters in this movie will be hard to forget.

It’s the details that leave the deepest impression, like Harry laying his handkerchief on the ground while out with Helen – not for Helen to sit on, but for himself. This isn’t vanity. This is reality, unromantic, where Harry’s family had to scrimp to buy him his suit and aren’t finished paying it off yet. 

At the Hardcastle home, Mr. Hardcastle (George Carney) gets washed in the kitchen, while Harry sleeps close enough to Sally that she can kick him from bed when he doesn’t get up right away. In those close quarters, a sheet offers little in way of privacy, but it’s the attempt that matters, even if it’s not very effective. 

Mrs. Bull (Marjorie Rhodes) might be the most interesting character in the movie. She’s part of the film’s “Greek chorus,” as Sinyard puts it, and is the person locals turn to when they need help giving birth or laying someone out for their funeral. Later, when a character opts for cremation over a funeral, you’d expect her to be one of the loudest proponents against it. She’s the one losing business, after all. Instead, Mrs. Bull voices her support for the decision and ends up being one of Sally’s biggest supporters as well.

In terms of bonus features, there’s a long, archival interview with Emary that Indicator has playing like a commentary over the movie, even though it wasn’t recorded to coincide with or comment on Love on the Dole specifically. There are also a handful of short films – two nonfiction, two fiction. “Island People” (1940) shows folks from all walks of life in Britain and is a little too kumbaya. “A City Speaks” (1947) is like a longer version of “Island People,” but with a focus on Manchester, going back to the city’s creation. Again, this film is a little on the starry-eyed side – acknowledging problems but then downplaying the fixes, while being very assuring that everything will be ok. The fictional propaganda shorts offer a lot more to chew on, as they were clearly designed with specific purposes in mind. “A Call for Arms!” (1940) tries to recruit female factory workers, using guilt and other manipulative tactics. “Our Film” (1942) was financed and produced by the Workers and Technicians of Denham Film Studios and uses scare tactics to try to stir up competition with the Soviets in terms of increasing productivity at British factories serving the war effort. As a portrait of working-class life in Britain in 1930 and for featuring one of Kerr’s earliest film roles, Love on the Dole is worth a blind buy and is available on Blu-Ray now from Indicator.