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Heavens Above! (1963)

A minister is accidentally appointed to a snobbish parish.


(original story), (original story) | 3 more credits »

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Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
The Reverend John Smallwood
Cecil Parker ...
Archdeacon Aspinall
Lady Despard
The Other Smallwood
Harry Smith
Rene Smith
Miriam Karlin ...
Winnie Smith
Joan Miller ...
Mrs. Smith-Gould
Miles Malleson ...
Eric Barker ...
Bank Manager
Major Fowler
Fred Smith
Joan Hickson ...


A minister is accidentally appointed to a snobbish parish.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

vicar | satire | naivety | gypsy | astronaut | See All (9) »




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Release Date:

23 May 1963 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Cielos arriba  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


According to film historian Robert Osborne, Sellers' portrayal of Rev. Smallwood was based on (and is a "dead-on" impression of) one of his teachers - Brother Cornelius - in a Catholic school. See more »


The sound of the organ heard at Rev Smallwood's church is too loud and rich for the small, hand-pumped console we see. See more »


Simpson: I remember Sir George used to say "Whenever you hears the Bible quoted, look out cos it's most likely the devil himself!"
See more »


References From Here to Eternity (1953) See more »


All Things Bright and Beautiful
Music by William H. Monk Lyrics by Cecil F. Alexander
Arranged by Richard Rodney Bennett
See more »

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User Reviews

Tough-Minded Religious Satire
7 May 2009 | by (Greenwich, CT United States) – See all my reviews

"Heavens Above!" is a barbed satire that cuts both ways, ridiculing organized religion for its complacence and its unrealistic aspirations and humanism regarding the perfectibility of man, especially the working-class kind. Though far from the funniest Peter Sellers comedy, it certainly is worthy in its own unique way.

Sellers plays Rev. John Smallwood, an Anglican prison chaplain accidentally assigned to the affluent community of Orbiston Parva. A sincere man of faith, Smallwood tries to drum up a little church fervor from his largely lapsed congregation, preaching the Gospel as Living Word rather than as aural wallpaper for weddings and funerals. Yet every earnest effort only stokes greater amounts of selfishness, even brutality.

"There aren't enough real Christians about to feed a decent lion," Smallwood laments.

At the same time, he must deal with the miserable quality of the clergy around him, like his own bosses in the Church of England hierarchy who strain only to keep their rich donor base happy and generous or the odd Pentecostal preacher who offers up damnation-filled sermons: "It's only the fires of hell that keep the churches warm."

"Heavens Above!" is a comedy of despair. If there is a God, it seems to say, He has better sense than to waste His time with blighted human riffraff like the Smiths, an itinerant family who leeches off Smallwood while feigning piety. Sellers is terrific, though in a largely straight performance, pulling us in with his naive gentility to the point where a lot of the gags turn painful when he is the butt of humor. The closest Sellers gets to laugh-getting - other than when Smallwood unknowingly snacks from a bowl of dog treats - is the opening, where he provides an uncredited voice-over as an American narrator introducing us to the uninspiring sight of Orbiston Parva. However much he stumbles and is tripped up, Smallwood is simply too nice a character to laugh at.

For all the apparent agnosticism in "Heavens Above", there's a strain of true religious belief in Smallwood's situation. Perhaps it's because the idea came from Malcolm Muggeridge, the last faith-friendly satirist England has produced. Smallwood is presented as a man of good works, but also doctrinal zeal. His scorn for the local pep-pill product "Tranquilax", it seems, is largely due to its proclaiming itself the "three-in-one restorative". For him, the only 3-in-1 restorative is the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.

"Heavens Above!" is also interesting for the fact it catches Sellers just on the cusp of becoming an international star, still relatively round in body, making one of his last films aimed exclusively at his home British market. Like the later "Hoffman" and "Being There", this shows just how well Sellers could carry a film without resorting to silly accents or slapstick.

The film's directors, John and Roy Boulting, do well to set Sellers up with an ace supporting cast recognizable from other Sellers productions of the period, including George Woodbridge and Cecil Parker as a pair of agreeably venal curates; Irene Handl and Eric Sykes as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, heads of a scruffy, thieving clan; and Kenneth Griffith as the fire-and-brimstone preacher.

If only they cut that silly ending! There's other issues, too, like a penchant for slow camera zooms without reason, and the way the movie piles on Smallwood at the expense of comedy, but the out-of-left-field ending stings worst, an attempt at giving the film a falsely up note. Alas, when you really think about it, it only leaves Smallwood worse off than ever.

But you do care about the guy, a sign someone was doing something right. Obviously that includes Peter Sellers. With more laughs and a tighter ending, "Heavens Above!" would have ranked among his greatest films. As it is, it's pretty good all the same, food for thought in our secular times.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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