Sir John Mills
(1908-2005)
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This short, wiry former 'song-and-dance' man became one of the most significant of all British film stars, and in his nearly 60 year career he appeared in well over 100 films, as well as substantial theatre and TV performances. Hewas one of the most popular and beloved English actors, was born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills on February 22, 1908, at the Watts Naval Training College in North Elmham, Norfolk, England. The young Mills grew up in Felixstowe, Suffolk, where his father was a mathematics teacher and his mother was a theater box-office manager.

After training as a dancer, he was first on stage in the chorus of The Five O'Clock Revue (1929) and was regularly on the London stage, in revues, musicals and straight plays, throughout the 30s, as well as making films before war broke out. He is an engaging juvenile lead in such 1930s pieces as The Ghost Camera (1933), the chirpy musical Car of Dreams (1935), the love interest for Nova Pilbeam’s Tudor Rose (1936), and the schoolboy grown into soldier in Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939).

But WW2 changed everything for Mills, as it did for so many connected with British cinema. The roles he played ‘In Which We Serve’ (1942), ‘We Dive at Dawn’ (1943), ‘This Happy Breed’, ‘Waterloo Road’ (1944) and The Way to the Stars (1945) defined a new kind of British film hero. He was the boy next door in his ordinariness. He also established an everyman reliability under stress; showing himself to be decent, brave and loyal.

John Mills was always noted for his sincerity and believability rather than for romantic qualities. He topped the Picturegoer poll in 1947 for his performance as Pip, the personable everyman in 'Great Expectation's (1946), emphatically a figure for a supposedly more egalitarian Britain; the tormented hero, an industrial chemist who fears he may have committed murder, in The October Man (1947). This ordinary decency was elevated in ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ (1948) to the status of national hero. It is the nobility of sacrifice for others which turns physical suffering and defeat into a spiritual triumph; a victory for the team rather than for charismatic individualism. In place of the debonair gentleman's dash and charm, Mills embodies a boyish enthusiasm which is deepened by testing into a gritty determination to continue whatever the cost.

He was the shabby private detective in ‘The End of the Affair’ (1954). The twitchy, repressed military types in ‘Tunes of Glory’ (1960) and ‘Tiara Tahiti’ (1962) and he is ultimately very moving as the father in ‘The Family Way’ (1966) who may have loved no one as much as his dead mate.













 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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