The British Film Institute presents the best global cinema on-demand:
From classic and contemporary films to the best of the BFI National Archive.

They Came to a City


This film is certified

Please confirm that you accept our terms of use.


They Came to a City 1944

77 mins United Kingdom Director. Basil Dearden

This idealistic wartime fantasy was one of the strangest films to be released during the glory years of Ealing Studios. Until recently it was also one of the hardest to see. Adapted by JB Priestley from his own stage play, it follows nine characters - among them a sailor, a charlady, an aristocrat, a businessman and a barmaid - drawn to the gates of a mysterious city. We have only their accounts to tell us what lies within: either an earthly paradise of equality and collective endeavour, or a hell in which individualism, personal profit and social status are cast aside.

Schematic and portentous, to be sure - but heartfelt and surprisingly fun, too - They Came to a City is a fascinating product of the tail-end of WWII, when Britain was asking itself what kind of a country it wanted to be once the peace was won. It's directed with conviction by the prolific Basil Dearden, and features Ealing regulars John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Ralph Michael and the great Googie Withers; Priestley himself appears in the framing sequence.

Start watching in: 30 days

Finish watching in: 48 hours

Directed by

Basil Dearden


Raymond Huntley

Googie Withers

John Clements




Social change


Unavailable on DVD Forgotten Features




United Kingdom



Read lessRead more

Explore further

View Dead of Night
Dead of Night
Watch from £2.98

Dead of Night 1945 PG

A group of guests assembled at a country house swap uncanny and supernatural stories in this classic Ealing chiller from 1945.

104 mins United Kingdom Director. Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer

View The Captive Heart
The Captive Heart
Watch from £2.98

The Captive Heart 1946 PG

A realistic recreation of life as a prisoner of war in Germany lends credence to this moving account of wartime survival against the odds.

98 mins United Kingdom Director. Basil Dearden

View All Night Long
All Night Long
Watch from £2.98

All Night Long 1962 15

Othello is transposed to the 1960s Soho jazz scene as a malevolent drummer sows mistrust between husband-and-wife jazz luminaries.

95 mins United Kingdom Director. Basil Dearden


View All

Welcome to a new subscription service like no other.

>100s of hand-picked classics and critically-acclaimed films

>Critic Mark Kermode picks a must-see film every week

>No contract, cancel anytime

Cookies Policy

This website uses cookies, as explained in our Cookies Policy.

To accept the terms and hide this message please click 'I accept'.

I accept

Passionate about film? So are we…

Don't miss the email made for the in-the-know film fan:

New releases — on the same day as in cinemas Special collections & unheralded classics Exclusive news on discounts

Never ask | Ask me later