John Mills, Forever English

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Sep 11–Oct 17, 2003


Great Expectations. 1946. Great Britain. Directed by David Lean

Handsome and dapper, John Mills has been the British screen actor par excellence for more than 70 years. Born in 1908, Mills began as a chorus boy, made his film debut in The Midshipmaid in 1932, and impressed as the hero of Forever England in 1935, foreshadowing many uniformed roles to come. One of these, famously, was in the naval epic In Which We Serve (1942), which saw the emergence of Mills as a new kind of British film actor—naturalistic and unaffected.

Mills was the first of his breed to cross class barriers convincingly, becoming everybody’s ideal of a national hero—iconically so in Scott of the Antarctic (1948). But a more versatile Mills, mischievous and comic, was never far from the surface, a quality recognized by David Lean, who cast him in This Happy Breed (1944), Great Expectations (1946), Hobson’s Choice (1954), and Ryan’s Daughter (1970), the latter winning Mills an Oscar.

The father of actors Hayley and Juliet, Sir John (he was knighted in 1977) still thrives and performs at 95 years of age, despite virtual blindness. This program, made possible by prints preserved by the bfi National Film and Television Archive in London, pays tribute to one of British cinema’s most likeable and enduring screen stars.

Curated by Clyde Jeavons, film historian and former Curator of the bfi NFTVA, and organized for MoMA by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media.

The Department thanks the Mills family, Bryony Dixon, and Barry Day for helping make this tribute possible.


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