April 25th, 2005

Little Johnny Mills

We had a power cut in the night. I know about it because the back-up power sources on a couple of nearby house alarms kicked in. I guess those things can't be switched off, because they rang without interruption for about an hour. Then the power came back and one after another all the house alarms on the street started chirruping, like a mechanical dawn chorus.

Sir John Mills died at the weekend. He was 97 and he made over 100 films- the first in 1932 and the last in 2003. He wasn't a showy actor but he was a damn good one. I think my favourite is Ice Cold in Alex- where he has his hair dyed white-blond and where at the climax he gets to sink a frosty pint of lager in a single draught. They needed six or seven takes on that one- and afterwards he had to go and lie down in a darkened room for the rest of the afternoon.

He made an awful lot of war movies. And- more perhaps than any other actor- came to personify the national myth of stiff-jawed resistance to nazi aggression. We had Churchill, We had the Queen Mum and we had little Johnny Mills. Actually his range was a lot broader than that. He was Pip in Great Expectations, the village idiot in Ryan's Daughter (for which he got an Oscar) and (his personal favourite) mouse-like Willie Mossop in Hobson's Choice (all for the same diector- David Lean.) He was the last survivor of that great generation of British actors that was headed by Olivier and Gielgud. Now that he's gone, I can believe that the 20th century really has come to an end.