Sir John Mills


John Mills was also much admired in ‘Morning Departure’ (1950) as a similarly inspirational leader, this time a submarine captain who has to encourage three of his crew, trapped with him in their stricken craft, to face death calmly. Despite his versatility as an actor, Mills continued to achieve his greatest success in similar roles: as Commander Fraser in ‘Above Us the Waves’ (1955), and as Pat Reid, the head of the escape committee, in ‘The Colditz Story’ (1955).

It was however as the captain in 'Ice Cold in Alex' (1958) that pushed by exhaustion into alcoholism, which really brought out the best in Mills. A superb piece of film-making that embodied most of the key characteristics of ‘being British’. There are two lovely scenes, the first being at the sand hill and ensuing tension when Syms and Mills meet at the bottom after the Landover rolls back down. The second I feel is at the bar where Mills drinks the Carlsberg and his character courageously addresses post war attitudes. In return Qualye’s character admits that the British were not what he had supposed them to be. Both of these statements would both have been very conciliatory at the time. Why ‘Ice Cold’ did not win Oscars…. 

Typically, then he got the Oscar for a grotesque piece of facial and vocal distortion in the inflated Ryan's Daughter (1970) - supporting actor Oscars have always been drawn to this sort of cosmetic display - when one could nominate a dozen far less showy, more worthy contenders among his roles. Even in perfectly ordinary films like The Vicious Circle (1957), one never stops believing in him.

The later decades saw him many in character roles such as Gandhi (1982); Kenneth Branagh then enlisted him for Hamlet (1996) to play the mute role of `Old Norway', for whom Shakespeare had thoughtlessly failed to produce lines. Though partially now deaf and blind, he still evidenced the chipper persona honed below the decks in those films half a century earlier. The achievement is there in the CV and it has been recognised with a CBE (1960), a Knighthood (1976) and the BAFTA Special Tribute Award (1987).

A British film actor par excellence, he was the last of his generation. Gone is Sir Alec, Sir John, Sir Peter and Lord Olivier and now alas is Sir John Mills.

I've never considered myself to be working for a living; I've enjoyed myself for a living instead.


'Up in the clouds please gentlemen' 1980

Suggested films to see:

Ryans Daughter (1970)
Above the Waves (1955)
Ice Cold in Alex(1958)
Great Expectations (1946)







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