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Friday, 18 September 2015

Classic Film Review: Heavens Above! (1963)

Heavens Above! stars Peter Sellers as an irreverent minister posted by accident to a snobbish parish. A name mix-up means that Reverend John Smallwood transfers from being a hapless prison chaplain to a complacent town where he proceeds to stir things up in his own gentle style. He sticks to the Bible rather than the Church, which causes a few problems. This satirical look at contemporary life also features Cecil Parker, Ian Carmichael, Eric Sykes, Miriam Karlin and Isabel Jeans.

I enjoyed this one, though not as much as I expected I might. It's amusing seeing the mix-up between the two John Smallwoods and watching the 'wrong' one's introduction into the village. Peter Sellers plays the idealistic minister perfectly - not once do you get the impression that the poor chap knows what on earth he's doing. His influence on Lady Despard (Jeans) is entirely realistic at first, as are the progressions of the other major stories. For instance, after seeing a large family evicted from their plot of land Smallwood invites them to stay at the vicarage with him. In this film everyone but Smallwood has an ulterior motive, even Lady Despard who is desperate to save her soul. As such, things don't exactly work out well.

There are moments of brilliance, including when the food bank established to help the poor begins putting the local tradesmen out of business. It's an excellent examination of good intentions gone awry but the film itself begins to lose its way in the last third with a plot twist that's memorable for all the wrong reasons.

In truth, when I think of this film I'm likely to think more of the bizarre ending than anything else, which is a shame. Heavens Above! makes some good points, perhaps as relevant today as they were then, but it loses its effect somewhat and I wish a more plausible ending could've been found.


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