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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Classic Film Review: The Bishop's Wife (1947)

The Bishop's Wife stars Cary Grant as Dudley, an angel who answers a call from Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) who is desperate to arrange funding for his new cathedral. He has been grovelling to wealthy Mrs Hamilton (Gladys Cooper) who is adamant that her late husband's legacy should be immortalised in the building, however illogical that may seem. On the outskirts of this is the bishop's wife, Julia (Loretta Young). She and her daughter are frequently sidelined by Henry's myopic business head. Not only is he losing the devotion of his wife but his religion seems to be lacking too. Just what is Dudley here to fix and will he get too close to Julia?

This was a charming film, showcasing Grant as his best. He gets plenty of opportunities to deliver brilliant lines and react to them, bouncing well off all the cast, especially Elsa Lanchester as Matilda the maid. Apparently, the first intention was to have Niven playing the agent and Grant the bishop - switching them was genius. Niven's performance as the harried bishop is stiff and proper, perfectly in keeping with the role. It's difficult to see them the other way round. Loretta Young is good as Julia, contrasting her hopeless distraction at the beginning of the film with the way she comes alive when she meets Dudley. Also watch out for James Gleason in a small role as a taxi driver and Monty Woolley as Professor Wutheridge, an old friend of the Broughams who is foxed by Dudley. There's a particularly delightful scene involving an ever-replenishing glass played to just the right effect.

Obviously, it's a fluffy film. Set at Christmas, it has the undeniable air of that season around it with ice-skating, snow and shopping. However, it's still very pleasant, a nice little foray into the unreal. Cary Grant doesn't play Dudley as very different to the humans he helps, only all-knowing and with a sense of humour. The Bishop's Wife can't be easily categorised as a 'fantasy' film - it doesn't have the air of the fantastical hanging around it. Instead, it's a good light comedy about human nature and what you need over what you want.

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