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As a family member, related to the main character, Sir Jock obviously for
myself, it was a very interesting piece to watch, having grown up with full
knowledge of the story in its entirety.
It was fairly accurate, although, typically, like any Hollywood film, some artistic licenses were granted. In fact, in real life, Sir Jock, a typical aristocrat of his time, had been in other troubles before, such as insurance fraud, and to this day I am somewhat surprised even with his titles, money, etc, he actually got away with this crime, for everyone strongly feels he did do it.
"The Sixth Earl of Carnarvon, Lord Porchester, was a close friend of Sir Delves, and a horse-racing jockey. Upon hearing of Jock's acquittal, he sent the famous cable: 'HEARTY CONGRATULATIONS UNDERSTAND YOU WON A NECK CLEVERLY REGARDS PORCHEY'. "
I loved the film, loved the decadence, and from what I have been told, this was all very typical of its time in Happy Valley Kenya. I gather both the Queen, as well as Bill Wyman from the Rolling Stones, each called it their favorite film for that year. Anyone especially familiar with British life, humor, etc, would find this most interesting.
SHELAGH DELVES BROUGHTON
A wild and wicked romp through the expatriate community around Nairobi, Kenya, during World War II. Greta Scacchi is radiant beyond mortal words as the femme fatale that upsets the not-so-delicate social, sexual, psychosexual balances of the "happy valley" crowd of faded British aristocrats and other late-era colonials. The steller cast, including Charles Dance in a terrific romantic lead, an over-the-top Sarah Miles, Joss Ackland in his best role, John Hurt, Trevor Howard, Geraldine Chaplin, even a young Hugh Grant, and so many others, is absolutely superb. Set against the spectacular backdrop of East Africa, this movie is a tale of love, lust, revenge, and destruction, and expertly captures the look and feel of the waning British colonial era in its dialogue, costumes, even music. An absolute treat!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Adapted from James Fox's non-fiction book of the same name, 'White
Mischief' recounts the mystery of the murder of Scottish aristocrat and
noted philanderer Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll in Kenya in 1941.
The husband of one of his conquests, Sir 'Jock' Delves Broughton, was
tried for the murder, but acquitted. While the book is really an
example of investigatory, not to say obsessive, journalism on the part
of Fox and his mentor at the Sunday Times, Cyril Connolly, Michael
Radford's film is more evocative of time and place.
Most colonial history has the rejects of the imperial society setting out to the colonies to better themselves, but Kenya between 1900 and 1940 proved a rare exception when a significant number of wealthy aristocratic English moved to the 'White Highlands' to settle. Others were found to do the actual work of ranching or coffee-growing and there was little for the rich to do except be idle. So grew the legend of the 'Happy Valley ' set, where drugs and alcohol fuelled continuous debauchery.
By the time the events covered in this movie occurred, the 'Happy Valley' period was pretty well over with several of the leading lights having succumbed to the rigours of the lifestyle. But Erroll (Charles Dance, charming) a veteran of the Valley is still surrounded by admiring women and has little trouble attracting Diana Broughton (Greta Scaachi, sizzling) when she arrives in 1940 from England to escape the war. Her husband Sir Jock (Joss Ackland, his best performance ever), 30 years older, knows Diana married him for money and security. She knows Erroll is broke but thinks Jock will pay her off. What she doesn't know is that Jock, through bad luck and mismanagement, has lost most of his considerable fortune (he once owned a good slice of Cheshire) and looks like losing the rest. (The film does not mention that the real Sir Jock had by 1940 committed serious fraud on at least two occasions to get himself out of financial difficulty).
In the film, Jock takes a while to realise what is going on, and then appears to accept the situation, even hosting a dinner at the Muthaiga Club in honour of the happy adulterous couple. Next morning Erroll is found shot dead in his car a couple of miles from the Broughton's house in suburban Nairobi. The case against Jock is not strong, and not carefully put together. He is represented by a first-rate South African trial lawyer, Harry Morris (Ray McAnally, in an uncharacteristically weak performance), who has little trouble evoking the sympathy of an all-white settlor jury.
The aftermath, for evident artistic reasons, is altered for the film, but the sense of it is still there. Within a short time Jock is dead, and Diana marries the eccentric Gilbert Colville (John Hurt, convincing), who is the biggest rancher in the colony. The last scene, where Diana comes across a cocktail party being held in a graveyard on the shores of Lake Naivasha at the request of one of the deceased, an alumni of Happy Valley, is quite surreal, and somehow captures the evanescence of it all, the fleeting moment between birth and death we call life. This part of Africa is sometimes said to be the Garden of Eden, the paradisaical place where mankind originated, and it's a truly beautiful place, but it's also clear the serpents were there all along.
Since this movie was made, a new theory about Erroll's death has emerged; that he was done to death by the British Security services as it was thought his fascist sympathies would make him likely to pass intelligence to the Italians (Erroll was a deskbound officer in the army). A lady called Eroll Trzebinski, resident in Kenya for 30 years, published a book 'The Life and Death of Lord Erroll' in 1999. Ms Trzebinski has written three other books including a well-received biography of Karen Blixen's lover Dennys Finch-Hatton. Well, I suppose it's no less credible than the theory Diana did it.
PS Another version of the story is told by Julian Fellowes in his "Most Mysterious Murder " TV series (2005). It's not a patch on this one but pretty convincingly identifies Jock as the culprit, with Diana accessory after the fact.
Was well into the film before I realized it was based on the factual story of a famous murder case. I was transported and still feel that way every time I get a chance to enjoy it again. I forgot who the actors were-they became the characters. That's how you know a film is splendid. I love the restraint of a fine British actor. No words are wasted. A glance tells it all. Everyone in the cast should be knighted by the Queen! I'll drop her Majesty a line right away. Chloe
Based on the book by James Fox (not the handsome English actor of a
certain age) this film remains hard to pin down: it's part murder
mystery, part sociological study, part history of pre-WW2 East African
colonialism, part romance, part dionysian orgy (really), part Evelyn
Waugh/Somerset Maughm, part romance, part.... etc. etc. And it's all
Yes, the actors are more spectacular looking than their real life counterparts (particularly Scacchi, seldom more stunning.) Sarah Miles' strange character wafts through as most memorable of all in a rich ensemble set of louche decadents. (And yet the actress in real life admitted she may not have gotten a handle on the real woman, just an impression. Based upon my reading of Fox's and Trzebinski's books' accounts on the Alice de Janze, I'd have to agree. Nothing like her except the memorable quips and woozy flair.) Plus, most folks who didn't swim through the primo decadence of the 1960's firsthand might be appalled at what passes for entertainment in British colonial East Africa of the 1930'/40s. But what you'll get for your treasure hunt (this is a hard film to find) is the truth of a murder mystery, weird but real characters, a slice of history, all against the gorgeous panoply of Kenya, despite all its troubles one of the most beautiful spots on the entire planet, all shot on location right where the real events unfolded.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The only thing that keeps me from giving this a 10, is the hit and miss score. There are moments when the music is completely wrong for what is going on. That said, the storyline is not new, in fact it is based on an actual incident. What makes it so entertaining is it's cast, their lines,beautiful wardrobes and the different "mischief" they nearly all take part in. Drugs,booze,polo, parties, mate swapping (and stealing), and eventually murder, has rarely looked so delicious on screen. There are moments here that should stick in your memory for years to come. One such scene involves Sarah Miles and her special way of saying goodbye to a dear departed. It's a shame that this Michael Radford gem is evidently out of print. Should you be lucky enough to find it to rent, I strongly recommend you having on hand a fine Port and some chocolate lobster!
Circa World War II a grisly - but rich- old buffer and his
far-too-young-for-him wife enjoy the high life in Kenya's Happy Valley.
However their happiness proves sadly short lived. Based on a famous
true life case.
Interesting approach to the "central" crime-celeb subject. While many would have plunged straight in to the murder-mystery to get the movie off with a bang - not here. This is a lesson in restraint.
This film seems to view the crime of secondary importance to atmosphere and the establishment of character and order. This is probably wise, because the mystery part of the crime is rather weak and one-sided. Especially in the manner the story is told.
(While tying to be true to the facts there is more nodding and winking going on here than in a New York gay bar!)
You can't complain about production values and acting, they are only of the very first order. Charles Dance was an actor born in to the wrong age - if the studio system had got a hold of him they could have turned him in to a superstar. He doesn't have enough to do here - but he does this "cad" act well enough.
Kenya is made to look like heaven on earth - if you are white and well off that is. Here life is one big party with plenty of sun, sea and sex - with an army of cheap black labour to do any real work.
The gin and tonic set form their own little England allowing the sex games to go on a bit further than at home because there are no prying eyes.
If any movie showcased Scacchi's ample prime-time charms is this one. I don't know if the lady is a naturist in real life, but she never looks that bothered about whether she is wearing clothes or not. Her classy English accent further convinces you that if any woman was worth killing over it is her.
(In interviews she talks about the audience getting tired of seeing her breasts!)
Watching the film is rather like watching the film Titanic. You realize that everything you see is going to be destroyed, while those on the screen sail on without a care in the world.
If the central crime had been more interesting and more ambiguous I might have enjoyed it more. A clear case of a film being rather weighed down by being based on facts rather than having the freedom of total fiction.
In no way a mainstream movie, White Mischief is a fascinating study of decadence among the expatriate English crowd in Kenya during WWII. Shows that not all Brits through the years have been stiff upper lip. [I already knew this.] Excellent photography, fine performances, witty dialog. Based on a true story.
When I'm in a particularly waspish mood I enjoy watching Michael Radford's odd film 'White Mischief'. I'm not certain how historically accurate it is, though the characters are real enough. It is beautifully filmed, well-acted, especially by Joss Acklund, Sarah Miles and Trevor Howard, in what must have been his last role from the looks of him. But what always disappoints me about this movie is that awful sound-track. What on earth possessed the production team to use that horrible electronic keyboard "orchestra" in lieu of real musicians playing real instruments? This ruins the film for me everytime and keeps me from giving it a higher score. However, if you are fond of Greta Schacchi, who is absolutely gorgeous here and Charles Dance, ditto, and you have a certain frisson when you see the Indian Ocean from the beach at Mombasa, then see this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Interesting film about decadence in Kenya in the 1940's. Diana (Sexy Greta Scacchi)is a new arrival to Kenya, married to Jock(Brilliant Joss Ackland), a much older and wealthy man (Although he is steadily becoming broke due to bad investments). Diana has clearly married Jock for his money and title. Into her life comes Joss (Handsome Charles Dance), who has a title but is practically penniless. He's part of the "Happy Valley" scene, which includes Alice (Sarah Miles), who is into sex and drugs and a bit loopy, Lizzy (Murray "One Night In Bangkok" Head)and Nina (Geraldine Chaplin), among others. Diana becomes involved with Joss, but her husband isn't too pleased with the developments, though later he sings a different tune. Later, Joss ends up dead and Jock is on trial for the murder. Once acquitted, Diana begins to wonder if her husband really killed Joss.
I have read the book and wished that some of the aspects had made it to the screen. Sarah Miles steals the film as Alice (Loved "The Alphabet Song!")and Dance and Scacchi heat up the screen. John Hurt does a good job as Gilbert, even though he says very little in the film. Keep your eye out for a young Hugh Grant in the beginning of the film.
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