For their patient co-operation the makers of this film express their thanks to the officers and members of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. Any resemblance between the deportment of our characters and any club members is emphatically denied—by the Club.
This was meant to underscore the fact that the actual event portrayed in the film was, as stated in its Official Entry Regulations, "NOT A RACE."
Two veteran cars and their crews participating in the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Alan McKim (John Gregson), a young barrister, and his wife, Wendy (Dinah Sheridan), drive Genevieve, a 1904 Darracq. Their friend Ambrose Claverhouse (Kenneth More), a brash advertising salesman, his latest girlfriend, fashion model Rosalind Peters (Kay Kendall) and her pet St. Bernard ride in a 1905 Spyker.
The journey to Brighton goes well for Claverhouse, but the McKims' trip is complicated by several breakdowns, and they arrive very late. As Alan cancelled their accommodation in their usual plush hotel during a fit of pique, they are forced to spend the night in a dingy run-down hotel (with a cameo performance by Joyce Grenfell as the proprietress) leaving Wendy feeling less than pleased.
They finally join Ambrose and Rosalind for after-dinner drinks, but Rosalind gets very drunk, and insists on playing the trumpet with the house band. To the surprise of all, she performs a hot jazz solo before falling fast asleep moments later, to Wendy's great amusement. (Kendall mimes the performance of "Genevieve" to a rendition by jazz trumpeter Kenny Baker.)
Alan and Wendy have an argument over Ambrose's supposed romantic attentions to her, and Alan goes off to the garage to sulk. Whilst working on his car in the middle of the night, Ambrose turns up. Angry words are exchanged and Alan impulsively bets Ambrose £100 that he can beat Ambrose back to London, despite racing not being allowed by the club. Ambrose accepts the bet—"First over Westminster Bridge."
The following morning, despite Rosalind's massive hangover and Wendy's determined disapproval of the whole business, the two crews race back to London. Each driver is determined that his car is the better, come what may, and they both resort to various forms of cheating. Ambrose sabotages Alan's engine, and Alan causes Ambrose to be stopped by the police.
Finally, on the outskirts of London (West Drayton), both cars are stopped by traffic police and the four contestants are publicly warned after Alan and Ambrose come to blows. At Wendy's insistence, they decide to call off the bet and have a party instead. But whilst waiting for the Ye olde Greene Manne public house in Rickmansworth to open, words are exchanged and the bet is on again.
The two cars race neck-and-neck through the southern suburbs of London. But with only a few yards to go, Genevieve breaks down. As Ambrose's car is about to overtake it, its tyres become stuck in tramlines (London's tram network had closed in 1952 but many of the tracks were still in evidence when the film was made the following year) and it drives off in another direction. The brakes on Genevieve fail and the car rolls a few yards onto Westminster Bridge, thus winning the bet.
Henry Cornelius had made the classic Passport to Pimlico for Ealing Studios but left the studio to go independent. He approached Michael Balcon to make Genevieve for Ealing but as his returning would displace the studio's production schedule and he had not won any friends at Ealing for leaving, Balcon turned the film down leaving Cornelius to have his film made for Rank Studios.
The original choices for the male leads were Guy Middleton and Dirk Bogarde who turned the film down, with their roles given to Kenneth More and John Gregson respectively. Dinah Sheridan says that the studio wanted Claire Bloom to play her part.
Kenneth More was approached by Henry Cornelius to play his role while appearing in the enormously successful production of The Deep Blue Sea. More said Cornelius never saw him in the play but cast him on the basis of his work in an earlier movie, The Galloping Major. More's fee was £3,500 or £4,000. More recalls "the shooting of the picture was hell. Everything went wrong, even the weather."
Rutland Mews South, SW7, was used as the location for the home of Alan and Wendy McKim during the filming of Genevieve.
The script for Genevieve originally called for the rivals to be driving British cars, Alan McKim a Wolseley or Humber and Ambrose Claverhouse a Lanchester. No owners of such cars were willing to lend them for filming, and eventually Norman Reeves loaned his Darracq and Frank Reese his Spyker. The Darracq was originally named "Annie", but was permanently renamed "Genevieve" after the film's success. Genevieve returned from a 34-year visit to Australia in 1992, and takes part in the London-Brighton Run every year. In July 2002, Genevieve and another Spyker participated in a 50th anniversary rally touring the filming locations. Both Genevieve and Ambrose Claverhouse's Spyker are, as of 2012, on display at the Louwman Museum in The Hague.
Genevieve was critically reviewed by Bosley Crowther for The New York Times, giving the film a very positive appraisal. "On the strength of the current mania that some restless people have for automobiles of ancient vintage—what are fondly called "veteran cars"—a British producer-director, Henry Cornelius, has made a film that may cautiously be recommended as one of the funniest farce comedies in years."
Genevieve was the second-most-popular at the British box office in 1953. According to the National Film Finance Corporation, the film made a comfortable profit.
Genevieve initiated a cycle of other comedies from the Rank Organisation.
Genevieve was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay (William Rose) and Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. Genevieve won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film and was nominated for Best British Actor (Kenneth More) and Best Film from any Source. It won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and National Board of Review award for Top Foreign Film.