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The Rakes’ Progress is a 1945 British film written and produced by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and directed by Sidney Gilliat. It has been described as ‘part satiric critique, part ironic elegy’ and ‘one of the most fascinating films of the classical British cinema’s richest period’. Feliks Topolski’s ‘atmospheric and somewhat lonely’ drawings for the title sequence suggest that satire will not wholly dominate (Bruce Babington, Launder and Gilliat: British Film Makers, Manchester University Press, 2002, pages 94 & 98).
Based on a story by Val Valentine, who contributed to the screenplay, The Rake’s Progress traces the decline of a modern upper-class playboy, Vivian Kenway, through a life of womanising, heavy drinking and running into debt, from being sent down from Oxford to causing the death of his father. Inspired in part by William Hogarth’s series of paintings and engravings of the same name, the film departs from its source by allowing Kenway to redeem himself by dying in combat during the Second World War (as shown in the opening moments). Rex Harrison’s sympathetic portrayal of Kenway is considered one of the best performances of his career.