Heavens Above!

Last updated

Heavens Above!
Heavens Above! movie poster.jpeg
Directed by John Boulting
Roy Boulting
Written by Frank Harvey
Produced by John Boulting
Roy Boulting
Starring Peter Sellers
Cecil Parker
Isabel Jeans
Eric Sykes
Bernard Miles
Ian Carmichael
Irene Handl
Roy Kinnear
Miriam Karlin
Brock Peters
Cinematography Mutz Greenbaum
Edited byTeddy Darvas
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett
Production
companies
Charter Film Productions
Romulus Films
Distributed by British Lion Films (UK)
Release date
  • 23 May 1963 (1963-05-23)(UK [1] )
Running time
113 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

Heavens Above! is a 1963 British satirical comedy film starring Peter Sellers, directed by John and Roy Boulting, who also co-wrote along with Frank Harvey, from an idea by Malcolm Muggeridge. [2] It is in a similar vein to the earlier collaboration between Sellers, Harvey and the Boultings, I'm All Right Jack . [3]

Contents

Plot

A naive but caring prison chaplain, John Smallwood (Sellers), is accidentally assigned as vicar to the small and prosperous English country town of Orbiston Parva, in place of an upper-class cleric (Carmichael) with the same name, who is favoured by the Despard family, who practically run the town and operate a large factory there.

Smallwood's belief in charity and forgiveness sets him at odds with the locals, whose assertions that they are good, Christian people are belied in Smallwood's eyes by their behaviour and ideas. He creates social ructions by appointing a black dustman (Peters) as his churchwarden, taking in a gypsy family, and persuading local landowner Lady Despard (Jeans) to provide food for the church to distribute free to the people of the town.

His scheme spirals out of control and very soon the local traders are up in arms as they have lost all their customers. He tries to explain this to the residents but is besieged in the church hall and only just rescued by the police.

As a face-saving act, the Bishop appoints the 'original' Smallwood to the parish and assigns the 'troublemaker' to the Scottish island of 'Ultima Thule'. He is made 'Bishop of Outer Space' to the British space operations based there. But when the intended pilot of the first rocket gets cold feet, Smallwood takes his place. He is last heard broadcasting a sermon over the rocket's radio.

Main cast

The cast includes several uncredited performers: A Hard Day's Night actor John Junkin, Rodney Bewes, who has a couple of lines as a milkman, and future Small Faces and Humble Pie singer Steve Marriott. [4] Sellers's performance is generally held to be outstanding, in a meatier, more dramatic role, similar to his work in I'm All Right Jack , released in 1959. [5]

Reception

The film premiered in London on 23 May 1963 at the Columbia Cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue (today known as Curzon Soho), [6] and although it disappointed the critic for The Times , who found it lacking the mild bite and satire of the Boulting-Sellers film I'm All Right Jack , [1] it became one of the 12 most popular films in Britain in 1963. [7]

Analysis

An article in Garden History likened the character of the Reverend John Smallwood to that of an 18th century picturesque guru William Gilpin: "The first act of the new reverend is to invite a group of colourful travellers to reside in the vicarage; the second is to convince an old lady to open her house and grounds to all sorts of poor vagabonds, scruffs and vagrants, characters who bring picturesque values to the noble scene. Eventually, a picturesque economic system based on free donation causes havoc in the village and the nation - the reverend is made a bishop and sent into space, in Britain's first spaceship. The film revives a character that one can safely imagine as a modern version of Doctor Syntax - cordial, dedicated, stubborn, fearless, not reacting against, but slightly diverging from, the established values of his culture." [8]

Like other Boulting films, Heavens Above! satirises contemporary materialistic attitudes and cautiously espouses a socialist ethos, while also showing the possible deleterious side-effects of such ideas, and the all-too-human tendency to take advantage of naive generosity.

Related Research Articles

Boulting brothers Twin brothers and filmmakers

John Edward Boulting and Roy Alfred Clarence Boulting, known collectively as the Boulting brothers, were English filmmakers and identical twins who became known for their series of satirical comedies in the 1950s and 1960s. They produced many of their films through their own production company, Charter Film Productions, which they founded in 1937.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Junkin</span> British TV and Radio performer, writer

John Francis Junkin was an English actor and scriptwriter who had a long career in radio, television and film, specialising in comedy.

<i>Im All Right Jack</i> 1959 British film

I'm All Right Jack is a 1959 British comedy film directed and produced by John and Roy Boulting from a script by Frank Harvey, John Boulting and Alan Hackney based on the 1958 novel Private Life by Alan Hackney.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Gregson</span> English actor (1919–1975)

Harold Thomas Gregson, known professionally as John Gregson, was an English actor of stage, television and film, with 40 credited film roles. He was best known for his crime drama and comedy roles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cecil Parker</span> English actor

Cecil Parker was an English actor with a distinctively husky voice, who usually played supporting roles, often characters with a supercilious demeanour, in his 91 films made between 1928 and 1969.

<i>Privates Progress</i> 1956 film

Private's Progress is a 1956 British comedy film based on the novel by Alan Hackney. It was directed and produced by John and Roy Boulting, from a script by John Boulting and Frank Harvey.

Kenneth Griffith Welsh actor

Kenneth Griffith was a Welsh actor and documentary filmmaker.

<i>The Wrong Arm of the Law</i> 1963 British film

The Wrong Arm of the Law is a 1963 British comedy film directed by Cliff Owen and starring Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins, Lionel Jeffries, John Le Mesurier and Bill Kerr. It was partly written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and made by Romulus Films.

Finlay Currie Scottish actor (1878–1968)

William Finlay Currie was a Scottish actor of stage, screen, and television. He received great acclaim for his roles as Abel Magwitch in the British film Great Expectations (1946) and as Balthazar in the American film Ben-Hur (1959).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Bailey (British actor)</span> British actor

John Albert Bailey was a British screen and TV actor who had a long screen, stage and TV career. He was born in South East London.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colin Gordon</span> British actor

Colin Gordon was a British actor born in Ceylon.

Mona Washbourne English stage, film and television actress

Mona Lee Washbourne was an English actress of stage, film, and television. Her most critically acclaimed role was in the film Stevie (1978), late in her career, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA Award.

<i>The Missionary</i> 1982 British film

The Missionary is a 1982 British comedy film directed by Richard Loncraine, and starring Michael Palin and Maggie Smith. It was produced by George Harrison, Denis O'Brien, Palin and Neville C. Thompson.

Joan Benham English actress

Joan Benham was an English actress best known for her portrayal of Lady Prudence Fairfax in the ITV period drama series Upstairs, Downstairs. She was born in London and was the first cousin of Hollywood actress Olive Sturgess.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Reginald Beckwith</span> British actor

William Reginald Beckwith was an English film and television actor, who made over one hundred film and television appearances in his career. He died of a heart attack aged 56.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Noel Howlett</span> English actor (1902–1984)

Noel Howlett was an English actor, principally remembered as the incompetent headmaster, Morris Cromwell, in the ITV 1970s cult television programme Please Sir! He was the subject of infatuation by Deputy Head Doris Ewell, played by Joan Sanderson.

<i>Soft Beds, Hard Battles</i> 1974 film by John Boulting, Roy Boulting

Soft Beds, Hard Battles is a 1974 British comedy film directed by Roy Boulting, starring Peter Sellers, Curt Jurgens, Lila Kedrova and Jenny Hanley. Sellers reunited with the Boulting brothers for this farce, in which the women of a brothel help the war effort to rid the world of the Nazi peril - in the bedroom.

<i>Brothers in Law</i> (film) 1957 British film

Brothers in Law is a 1957 British comedy film directed by Roy Boulting and starring Richard Attenborough, Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas and Jill Adams. The film is one of the Boulting brothers successful series of institutional satires begun with Private's Progress in 1956. It is an adaptation of the 1955 novel Brothers in Law by Henry Cecil, a comedy set in the legal profession.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fred Griffiths (actor)</span> English actor

Fred Griffiths was an English film and television actor. A former London cabbie and wartime fire fighter discovered by director Humphrey Jennings, and cast in his documentary film Fires Were Started in 1943; and over the next four decades played supporting roles and bit parts in 150 films, including various Ealing, Boulting Brothers and Carry On comedies, before eventually retiring in 1984.

John Henry "Joby" Blanshard was an English film and television actor, most famous for playing Colin Bradley in 32 episodes of the early 1970s "science-fact" series, Doomwatch.

References

  1. 1 2 The Times, 23 May 1963, page 6, Film review: A Serious Film Comedy Gone Wrong - Heavens Above! - found in The Times Digital Archive 2014-03-15
  2. "Heavens Above! (1963)". BFI. Archived from the original on 12 July 2012.
  3. "Heavens Above! (1963) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies.
  4. BBC - h2g2 - The Small Faces - the Band. Steve Marriott appeared in Heavens Above!
  5. "BFI Screenonline: Heavens Above! (1963)". screenonline.org.uk.
  6. Cinema Treasures: Curzon Soho Linked 2014-03-15
  7. The Times, 3 January 1964, page 4: Most Popular Films Of 1963 - found in The Times Digital Archive 2012-07-11
  8. The Revd William Gilpin and the Picturesque; Or, Who's Afraid of Doctor Syntax? Author(s): Francesca Orestano Source: Garden History, Vol.31, No.2 (Winter, 2003), pp. 163–179