Cast & Crew
Seventeen-year-old Brydie White has grown up slightly retarded in a rural English village ever since one of her playmates was killed seven years earlier by a loaded shotgun left lying around by his father, Edwin Dacres. Brydie's mother ignores her responsibilities by constantly drinking gin, and Dacres disguises his guilt by blaming Brydie for the death; likewise, she is shunned by most of the villagers and can only find solace in the churchyard cemetery by the boy's grave. One day she sees a youngster burying his dead mole in the graveyard and decides to do the same with two of her recently deceased pets; soon, to the consternation of their parents, other children follow suit, and the cemetery is filled with hundreds of tiny mounds. Her newfound acquaintances include Roibin, a gypsy boy whose caravan is visiting the village. One night the disapproving Mrs. White strikes Brydie, who then runs to the graveyard and encounters the drunken Dacres. When he threatens her with a gun, Brydie runs off, falls into a nearby river, and is rescued by Roibin, who hides her in the caravan. Brydie's disappearance causes Mrs. White to die of a stroke, and the villagers believe the girl should be placed in an orphanage once she is found. The local vicar decides otherwise, however, and defies convention by permitting Brydie to leave town with the caravan.
Mary Hayley Bell
Mary Hayley Bell
Colin Le Mesurier
In his autobiography, Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen, Please, John Mills remembered the difficulties and pleasures of making the film. "The story concerned children; it was emotional and at times verged on the sentimental. For this reason I was determined to get a writer or writers on the script who were up-to-date, modern, down-to-earth and tough. Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, who had written such a great script from Mary's last marvelous story Whistle Down the Wind [which had also starred Hayley Mills], would be perfect. They read it, liked it, but were too tied up on another script to take it on. With hindsight I realize I made a mistake: I allowed myself to get locked in to studio space on a specific date, which meant that I had a restricted time for preparation. I tried several other script writers with no success. Time was running out. I finally engaged an excellent writer, John Prebble who, after he delivered the first draft, I knew was not right for the film. By this time the production was rolling too fast downhill to stop. The result was that I started shooting with a script that I was not entirely happy about, which anyone who has any knowledge of the film business will know to be a worrying and unsatisfactory state of affairs. "
Despite his trouble with the script, Mills had better luck with his crew, "I had a wonderful team with me Jack Hanbury, producer, Carmen Dillon, designer, Arthur Ibbetson, cameraman, and a hand-picked crew, every one of whom I had worked with many times over the past twenty years. We toured England and Wales searching for exactly the right village with all the necessary qualifications church, churchyard, village green, pub and cottages clustered together that I could frame in one long shot. We finally found it Badminton. It was perfect, except for one thing the church had no tower. So we built one out of steel scaffolding and fiberglass."
"Hayley was superb and a joy to direct. The only member of the cast I had any problem with at all was Hamlet. Our spaniel had the reputation of being the best pee-er in the business; no tree, lamppost or gatepost in the Richmond area was left unchristened. As soon as he knew the camera was turning on him, however, he dried up. I needed a very important shot: Hamlet was supposed to show his disapproval of a preceding scene by peeing on the churchyard gate as he made his exit with Hayley. Just to make sure he would be in the right mood and well primed for his performance, I kept him in my caravan for a couple of hours before the shot with a large bowl of water; and to make absolutely sure, we primed the gatepost as well. On action Hamlet, as ordered, trotted along beside Hayley through the churchyard; he approached the gatepost, glanced at it disdainfully, and passed it by. He then proceeded to pee on the camera legs, the sound truck, the catering wagon and the make-up table. I tried for an hour to get the shot, but Hamlet just wouldn't come through. A month later, back in the studios, I got the props [property department] to erect a gate in the studio grounds. Hamlet made it in Take One. In fact, if the gate hadn't been very firmly built, he would have flattened it."
Mills' only directorial project received lukewarm reviews from the critics. Variety in its January , 1966 edition, said "This naive yarn is rescued from bathos by the evident sincerity of both star and director and by a very convincing portrayal of village life, highlighted by some excellent photography by Arthur Ibbetson. John Mills has played safe in his first directing experiment and the result, while often stodgy, suggests that he knows his way around a directorial chair."
The box office results were not spectacular, but as Mills wrote, "Although Sky West [Gypsy Girl] didn't succeed in breaking any box-office records we shall never regret making it. The whole unit was terrific no strikes, no problems, everybody mucked [pitched] in. Union rules about who did what job and when were brushed under the table. Before the picture started I asked the production department to see that every member of the crew, including the sparks [electricians] and chippies [carpenters] were given scripts. The result was they all felt they were part of it and became personally concerned with making the picture. At the end of shooting the crew presented me with a super movie-editing machine; the inscription on it read: Bats with Baby Faces rechristened Sky West and Crooked: 1965. To Johnnie, with thanks for a very happy picture."
Producer: Jack Hanbury
Director: John Mills
Screenplay: John Prebble, Mary Hayley Bell (and story)
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
Art Direction: Carmen Dillon
Music: Malcolm Arnold
Film Editing: Gordon Hales
Cast: Hayley Mills (Brydie White), Ian McShane (Roibin), Annette Crosbie (Mrs. White), Laurence Naismith (Edwin Dacres), Geoffrey Bayldon (Phillip Moss), Pauline Jameson (Mrs. Moss), Norman Bird (Cheeseman), June Ellis (Mrs. Cheeseman), Hamilton Dyce (Bill Slim)
by Lorraine LoBianco
Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen, Please: The Unabashed Autobiography of Britain's Best-Loved Actor by John Mills
The Internet Movie Database
Variety January 1, 1966
Sir John Mills (1908-2005)
Born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills in Norfolk, England on February 22, 1908. His father was a headmaster of a village school in Suffolk, where Mills was raised. After secondary school, he worked as a clerk in a corn merchant's office while acting in amateur dramatic societies. Ever ambitious, he relocated to London in 1928 to find more work as an actor.
He took tap-dancing lessons and made his stage debut as a chorus boy in The Five O'Clock Girl at the London Hippodrome in 1929. Later that year, he joined an acting troupe that toured India and the Far East with a repertory of modern plays, musical comedies and Shakespeare. It was during this tour when he scored his big break - he was spotted by Noel Coward while in Singapore and promptly taken under the playwright's wing when he returned to London in 1931.
On his return, he starred on the West End (London's Broadway), in Coward's Cavalcade and earned the lead in a production of Charley's Aunt. His song and dance talents came in handy for his film debut, an early British musical-comedy The Midshipmaid (1932). His biggest hits over the next few years would all fall into the genre of light comic-musicals: Britannia of Billingsgate (1933), Royal Cavalcade (1935), and Four Dark Hours(1937). He scored a his first big part as Robert Donat's student in the MGM backed production Mills went on to play Robert Donat's Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). He developed some more heft to his acting credentials that same year when he made his debut at the celebrated Old Vic Theatre as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
He served briefly in the Navy, 1940-41, during World War II before receiving a medical discharge. When Mills returned to the screen, he began a great turn as the atypical sturdy, dignified Englishman ("English without tears" went the popular phrase of the day). He starred as a stalwart lead in a amazing string of hit films: In Which We Serve (1942), We Dive at Dawn (1943), This Happy Breed (1944), The Way to the Stars (1945), and Waterloo Road (1945). Although Mills was ever dependable, they did not show his breakout talents until he starred as Pip in David Lean's gorgeous adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (1946). As the young orphan who morphs into a man of wealth and stature, Mills showed the depth as an actor by offering a finely modulated performance.
By the late '40s, Mills was a bona fide star of British films, and over the next decade the strong roles kept coming: as the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (1948); Bassett, the handy man who tries to help a troubled child (the brilliant John Howard Davies) of greedy, neglectful parents in the superb domestic drama The Rocking Horse Winner (1950); an overprotective father who gets trapped in a murder yarn in Mr. Denning Drives North (1952); a fine Willie Mossop in David Lean's Hobson's Choice (1954); an impressive "against-type" performance as a Russian peasant in War and Peace (1956); a sympathetic police inspector coaxing the trust of a juvenile (his daughter Hayley) who knows the facts of a murder case in the underappreciated Tiger Bay (1959); a rowdy Australian sheep shearer in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (also 1959); and arguably his finest performance - a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for a hard-as-nails army colonel who fears the loss of control over his regiment in Tunes of Glory (1960).
The mid-60s saw an isolated effort as a film director: Gypsy Girl (which starred his other daughter Juliet - who would later find fame on US television in Nanny and the Professor (1970-72); and showed the development of Mills into a charming character actor: the working-class patriarch in the modest comedy The Family Way (starring Hayley as his daughter); and a terrific comic bit as a murderous Lord who tries to kill off his kin for the family inheritance in Bryan Forbes The Wrong Box (all 1966).
By the '70s, his film work slowed considerably, but he was always worth watching: an Oscar winning performance as a mute villager in David Lean¿s study of the Irish troubles Ryan's Daughter (1970); as the influential General Herbert Kitchener Young Winston (1972); and as a driven oil driller in Oklahoma Crude (1973). With the exception of a small role in Sir Richard Attenborough's Ghandi (1982 - where he was credited as Sir John Mills after his knighthood in 1976), and a regrettable cameo in the deplorable Madonna comedy Who's That Girl (1987).
Very little was seen of Mills until recent years, where the most memorable of his appearances included: Old Norway in Hamlet (1996); as the stern chairman opposite Rowan Atkinson in the hit comedy Bean (1997); and - in a daring final role for his proud career - a nonagenarian partygoing cocaine user in Stephen Fry's bawdy social satire Bright Young Things (2003)! Mills is survived by his wife of 64 years, the novelist and playwright Mary Hayley Bell; his daughters, Juliet and Hayley; son, John; and several grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Sir John Mills (1908-2005)
Location scenes filmed in Badminton, England. Opened in London in January 1966 as Sky West and Crooked. The working title of this film is Bats With Baby Faces.