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John Mills and British Cinema

John Mills and British Cinema: Masculinity, Identity and Nation

Gill Plain
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    John Mills and British Cinema
    Book Description:

    This book asks how was it possible for an actor to embody national identity and, by exploring the cultural contexts in which Mills and the nation became synonymous, the book offers a new perspective on 40 years of cinema and social change.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-2661-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Gill Plain
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction: Acting English
    (pp. 1-24)

    When Sir John Mills died on 23 April 2005, the obituary writers had no doubts about his cultural significance. He was the ‘archetypal Englishman’, ‘quintessentially English’, ‘the most English of actors’ and ‘the definitive, stoical Everyman for a nation at war’.¹ With an appropriately theatrical sense of occasion, the English Everyman died on St George’s Day, and without exception, the media memorialised him as an embodiment of ‘national’ virtues. The Daily Telegraph commented on his ‘talent for demonstrating the qualities of English decency’, and described him as ‘the epitome of the most admirable kind of Englishman – restrained, determined, honourable, good-humoured...

  6. Part I

    • 2 A British Cagney? Cinema and self-definition in the 1930s
      (pp. 27-56)

      Comparing John Mills and James Cagney was a surprisingly common pursuit of the 1930s and 1940s. Although the grounds for this comparison are perhaps not immediately obvious, there are a number of unexpected similarities connecting the two men. Both actors began on the stage: Cagney in vaudeville, and Mills in the chorus of The Five O’Clock Girl at the London Hippodrome. They could sing and they could dance, but both men were short, and so were denied easy access to leading-man status.¹ Cagney, obviously the more significant film star of the 1930s, enjoyed massive success, but was continually frustrated by...

    • 3 Mills at War, 1940–45: The nation incarnate?
      (pp. 57-94)

      Who or what is the soldier hero of the Second World War? There is no simple or singular answer to this question, as one of the characteristic devices of British filmmaking in this period was an attempt to foster a democratic spirit. The hero became not only Everyman but also Everywoman. Moreover, heroism was no longer seen to be the preserve of the special individual but rather a quality emerging from shared values and beliefs, a powerful ideological shift that gave rise, as the war progressed, to what might be termed the ‘composite’ hero. The most famous early manifestation of...

  7. Part II

    • 4 A Cautionary Note: Great expeditions and the postwar world
      (pp. 97-134)

      The transition from war to peace is neither tidy nor immediate. VE day was in May 1945, VJ day in August, but for some members of the armed forces, demobilisation took years to achieve. For these men and women, and for the countless families deprived of homes by blitz or doodlebug, peace was an absence of threat, rather than a return to anything that might once have been conceived as normality. For many, there was no desire to return to the status quo of the 1930s; indeed, the nation’s wish for fundamental social and political change found eloquent expression in...

  8. Part III

    • 5 Dead Men, Angry Men and Drunks: Post-traumatic stress and the 1950s
      (pp. 137-172)

      Although the following three chapters pursue a roughly chronological development from 1950 to 1970, they are also subject to temporal overlaps, and move between the films of two decades in a rather more fluid manner than was the case in Part I. This shift to a thematic rather than a strictly chronological approach emerges from the impossibility of imposing a straightforward scheme of development upon a period of rapid and radical change in terms of both gender and national self-image. Together the 1950s and 1960s comprise a period of national reinscription, and it is not possible to chart a linear...

    • 6 The Spectre of Impotence: Fathers, lovers and defeated authority
      (pp. 173-206)

      At what point does the ageing war hero become an impotent figure of defeated authority? Quite possibly at the point when the prescriptive pressure of performing hegemonic masculinity becomes too demanding, and the hard shell of self-control, restraint and toughness finally cracks to reveal the vulnerable body beneath. For traditional British masculinities at the end of the 1950s, such a rupture had been on the cards for a while. Concluding their monumental survey of the period, Sue Harper and Vincent Porter suggest that the 1950s produced ‘an anxious cinema, which worried away at the new social and sexual boundaries’. This...

    • 7 Playing the Fool: Comedy and the end of Everyman
      (pp. 207-237)

      Comedy, argues Freud, facilitates the expression of fears and anxieties otherwise inarticulable within the constraints of society. In Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, he suggests that comic forms are a means of overcoming repression: jokes have the capacity to ‘evade restrictions and open sources of pleasure that have become inaccessible’, while also encouraging audiences into a position of sympathy ‘without any very close investigation’ (1960: 103). Comedy thus creates a potentially subversive space, a ‘liminal’ territory in which ‘the rules and regulations of a society are briefly suspended’ (Horton 1991: 5). Historically the genre has been understood to...

  9. Filmography
    (pp. 238-240)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-248)
  11. Index
    (pp. 249-254)