Folly to Be Wise

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Folly to Be Wise
Folly to Be Wise (1953 film).jpg
Directed by Frank Launder
Written by James Bridie (play)
John Dighton
Frank Launder
Produced by Sidney Gilliat
Starring Alastair Sim
Elizabeth Allan
Roland Culver
Edward Chapman
Martita Hunt
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by Thelma Connell
Music byTemple Abady
Distributed byBritish Lion Film Corporation
Release date
  • 19 January 1953 (1953-01-19)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Folly to Be Wise is a 1953 British comedy film directed by Frank Launder and starring Alastair Sim, Elizabeth Allan, Roland Culver, Colin Gordon, Martita Hunt and Edward Chapman. It is based on the play It Depends What You Mean by James Bridie. [1] The film follows the efforts of a British Army chaplain attempting to recruit entertainment acts to perform for the troops and the complications that ensue when he does. [2] The title is taken from the line by Thomas Gray "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise".



Having recently taken over the role of Entertainments Officer at an army camp, the army chaplain Captain William Paris (Sim) is disheartened that so few of the troops turn out for an evening of classical music. He visits a local pub, "The Rose and Crown", and finds the place packed with soldiers, including his own driver. He resolves to try and secure something more entertaining for the troops and decides to copy the idea of a brains trust, as in a popular BBC radio programme, where panellists answer questions from the audience.

With the help of Lady Dodds, Paris manages to gather together a group of local notables. These individuals each prove to be mildly eccentric. The group includes the opinionated Professor Mutch, who is a popular radio personality on BBC radio, and his friend the oil painter George Prout and his wife Angela. Arriving at the Prout's house, Paris interrupts Mutch and Mrs Prout who are about to embrace. Then meeting Mr Prout, he soon finds him a cold man who verbally abuses his wife. The 'brains trust' panel is rounded out by the hard-of-hearing Doctor McAdam and the chippy local Labour MP Joseph Byres.

With the help of his secretary, Private Jessie Killigrew, the chaplain manages to organise the event. The hall is relatively well filled. Trying to avoid anything controversial, Paris forbids any discussion of politics or religion and begins with some innocuous questions about cows chasing after trains and if the Moon is inhabited. Things soon become heated when Mr Byres, the local MP, takes offence at comments directed at him and threatens to start a fight. Having only just averted this, a question about marriage from Killigrew reveals the fragility of the Prouts' marriage. Fearing any controversy, Paris quickly announces that it is time for the interval.

As word spreads around the camp of the goings-on, the second half begins with the room completely packed. Paris tries to steer the debate back to harmless questions about bluebottles, but Killigrew interrupts and demands an answer to her earlier question about marriage. As the Prouts begin arguing once again, Mrs Prout admits that the Professor is her "lover". At this, the whole event threatens to descend into anarchy despite Paris' attempts to maintain order. Desperate to restore a sense of propriety, he draws the proceedings to a close, and announces that next week they will return to classical music with a string quartet. A soldier stands up and thanks the chaplain for providing such entertainment and asking if the 'brains trust' can be made a regular feature, to rapturous applause.

Worried about Mr Prout, who has disappeared and has been drinking heavily, the others follow him back to his house, where they mistakenly come to believe that he is going to throw himself over the cliffs, whereas he is merely planning a bit of quiet painting. Meanwhile, the Professor has revealed himself to be an inherently selfish man, while Mr Prout is suddenly far more reasonable. He and Mrs Prout soon resolve their differences, and he tries to be a little more considerate to her.

The film ends with the string quartet playing once more and Paris sitting in an almost empty theatre.



The film was shot at Shepperton Studios and made by the British Lion Film Corporation. James Bridie wrote the screenplay, adapting it from his own play. Alastair Sim had previously produced the play in a 1944 run at the Westminster Theatre and was a driving force behind bringing it to the screen. [4] Launder was encouraged to make the film by Alexander Korda. [5]

The play was broadcast live by BBC Television on 25 June 1946. [6]


A contemporary New York Times review described the film as a "cheerful British import". While noting that the film did not "succeed in building into towering proportions the fragile theme of what makes a marriage tick" the cast had made it "all worth while". The review praised the performance by Alastair Sim in particular. [7]

Sim was nominated for a Best Actor BAFTA for his role as Captain Paris, but lost to Ralph Richardson for his performance in The Sound Barrier . [8]

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  1. "Folly to Be Wise". 6 December 1953 via
  2. "BFI | Film & TV Database | FOLLY TO BE WISE (1952)". 16 April 2009. Archived from the original on 13 January 2009. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  3. Folly to Be Wise (1952) - IMDb , retrieved 6 August 2020
  4. "Folly to Be Wise | Britmovie | Home of British Films". Britmovie. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  5. Harper & Porter p.98
  6. "It Depends What You Mean · British Universities Film & Video Council".
  7. "Movie Review - - Article 2 -- No Title; ' Folly to Be Wise,' Cheerful British Import, Has Its Premiere at Art and Beekman Theatres -".
  8. "BAFTA Awards".