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An Evocation, not a Reconstruction (Possible SPOILER)
Philby-35 May 2002
Warning: 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.
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Pills, Booze, Swinging, Cross-Dressing and other activities in World War II Africa
Ben Calmes17 August 1999
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!
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Strange, decadent, and worthwhile
fastfilmhh29 April 2008
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 true.

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.
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What a treat !!
demanning525 March 2005
Warning: 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!
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White Mischief
shiksa-grrrl27 January 2001
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.

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I read the book.
Chloe1314141422 January 2002
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
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The movie version was a good adaptation of the intriguing book by James Fox.
Maizie James3 August 2009
I read the book, WHITE MISCHIEF soon after it was published in the early 90's. When the movie version premiered, I thought the adaptation was fairly good. Both the book and the movie presents a wonderful story of a mystery-murder evolving around a group of pampered haughty individuals among the British elite 'high society' living in colonial Kenya during WWII. The movie version features Sarah Miles, in an incredible performance.

We see this naught group getting into all types of 'mischief' while visiting each others homes, vacationing, and attending exclusive private clubs during the height of elegance in colonial Kenya during the 40's. There is a healthy dose of sex, pride, betrayal, and all manners of decadence amid an environment of wealth and affluence.

The movie and book was highly enjoyable for those who are intrigued with the lifestyle and social posture of the British in places such as Africa and India before these countries achieved independence.

Yet, I'm puzzled why this movie, WHITE MISCHIEF is unavailable in the major rental outlets such as Blockbuster, or Netflix.

M James
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Sex, Drugs, Murder and Chocolate Covered Lobsters!
domino100310 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
*****Possible 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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Delightfully Over the Top
Matthew G Horner1 November 1999
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.
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A worthwhile and sexy retelling of a famous murder-mystery case.
Peter Hayes1 November 2004
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.
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Period piece, 1940 British in Kenya, based on actual events.
TxMike5 December 2000
Why did I rent this movie? Because my friend Paul said it best shows off the "charms" of Greta Scacchi, who was in her late 20s when the filming was done. She truly is a stunningly beautiful woman, and the makeup and lighting are just perfect for her. Bare above the waist, in the sea, she is also striking.

Anyway, Scacchi plays the very young wife of an older, rich man, and they have traveled to Kenya where a lot of rich Brits hung out around 1940, trying to put world strife out of their minds. She flirts a lot, has an affair with a young playboy, and her husband doesn't take it well. Eventually the lover is found shot to death in his car.

You don't have a lot of latitude when making a film based on fact, however it implies that the most likely shooter was the old husband. The case never was solved. I enjoyed this film because of its faithfulness to the period, the beautiful Greta Scacchi, and a pretty interesting story. I rate it "7" of 10.
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Death in Happy Valley
James Hitchcock28 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Although "White Mischief" is set in Kenya during British rule it does not, unlike most "heritage films" with a colonial setting, concentrate on relations between the British and their colonial subjects. Instead, it dramatises one of the twentieth century's unsolved great murder mysteries, the shooting on the night of 24th January 1941 of Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll. Erroll, a Scottish aristocrat, was a member of the "Happy Valley set", a group of wealthy white settlers in Kenya who had become notorious for their decadent, hedonistic lifestyle, centred upon drinking, gambling, drug-taking and adultery. The film was based on a book by James Fox, who adapted the title of Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel "Black Mischief", and came two years after "Out of Africa", another film about the white community in Kenya.

Erroll had a reputation as a womaniser, and at the time of his death was conducting an affair with Diana, the beautiful young wife of Sir Henry "Jock" Delves Broughton, a much older wealthy landowner. Broughton, the obvious suspect in Erroll's murder, was arrested and tried for the crime, but was sensationally acquitted. Despite his acquittal, he was ostracised by his former associates and committed suicide the following year.

Films which suggest solutions to real-life unsolved crimes are not always satisfactory, whether those crimes be the Kennedy assassination, the Jack the Ripper murders or (as in the recent "Zodiac") the San Francisco Zodiac killings. "White Mischief" hints very strongly that, notwithstanding his acquittal, Broughton was indeed the killer, even though the evidence brought against him at his trial was weak. Since the film was made, it has been suggested that the real killer was Alice de Janzé, a former mistress of Erroll jilted by him in favour of Diana Broughton. (Like Jock Broughton, Alice committed suicide not long after the murder). The theory has also been put forward that he was assassinated by the British Secret Service, which regarded him as a potential traitor. (Before the war he had been an outspoken supporter of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists).

The attraction of "White Mischief", however, does not lie in its attempt to solve an unsolved crime, but in the vivid picture it paints of a particular place and time. The outbreak of war in 1939 had not affected the Happy Valley set's appetite for pleasure, and their wild lifestyle continued unabated. (Their antics caused something of a scandal in Britain, where people were having to endure the hardships and dangers of war). Yet the film suggests that beneath this hedonistic surface lay world-weariness, disillusionment and even deep unhappiness. The one person who does seem content with life is the eccentric, laconic farmer Gilbert Colville who, despite possessing great wealth, has adopted a more simple way of life and (unlike most of the other white settlers) has befriended the native Africans.

Alice de Janzé was one of the most notorious members of the Happy Valley set, having led a scandalous life even before beginning her affair with Erroll. She is included in this film, however, largely in order to exemplify its moral that pleasure is not necessarily the same as happiness. One of the key lines in the film is her exclamation upon waking up one fine morning "Oh God, not another f***ing beautiful day!". Her suicide is portrayed as having been motivated partly by grief at Erroll's death and partly by a sense of the pointlessness of her existence. It is significant that the film ends with her funeral, although I was not sure if this strange scene, a cocktail party with elegantly dressed men and women dancing to jazz records in a graveyard by a lake, was a re-enactment of an actual historical event or if director Michael Radford was simply indulging a taste for surrealism. Either way, it seemed to sum up the Happy Valley way of life.

Alice was, by all accounts, a beautiful and fascinating woman despite her scandalous immorality, so I felt that the role demanded an actress more charismatic than Sarah Miles. Alice was actually American by birth, so I am surprised that the producers did not take this opportunity to bring in a Hollywood star. The three main stars, however, Greta Scacchi as Diana, Joss Ackland as Jock and Charles Dance as Erroll, were all very good; the lovely Greta has seldom, if ever, looked lovelier than she does here. There is also a good cameo from John Hurt as Colville.

Ackland was particularly good in conveying his character's anguish. Broughton is played as a man who finds it difficult to show emotion, and this is due to more than the conventional "stiff upper lip". He is a keen sportsman and gambler for whom losing gracefully is part of his personal code of honour; before marrying Diana he made a pact with her that if she ever feel in love with someone else he would not stand in her way. He discovers too late, however, that he is deeply in love with his young wife and that affairs of the heart cannot be dealt with as smoothly as the payment of one's gambling debts.

I would not rank White Mischief quite as highly as "Out of Africa", which brought an epic sweep and grandeur to its tale of colonial life. As a portrayal of the decadent lifestyle of a particular place and time, however, it is a very watchable one. 7/10
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A glimpse into the passing of the Raj
Tim Johnson23 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
As someone who loathes empires and imperialism, I find myself strangely drawn to the remains of the planet's last old fashioned empire (as opposed to the new model currently imperializing, I think I can use that word, the world). I have been fortunate to wander around the post-colonial British remains in Singapore and Malaysia back in the 70s before those remains were washed from the slates of those new states in Southeast Asia. Although that peek was small it was enough to stay in my memory and to light the fire of interest in further, particularly British, remnants of their recent colonial past.

This interest (probably grounded in history and curiosity) led me to this movie and I was not disappointed. I thought the script, the acting, the direction and the cinematography were excellent. The actors were brilliantly cast so the entire assembly fell into their roles to the extent that I saw the group as believable, as if they had just left their first-class cabins on one of those beautiful old liners that were the life-blood of Britian's empire.

I intend to begin collecting all the DVDs of this colonial period in English history, as seen from both the colonizers and their subjects. I suppose that living as I do in a colonized country, albeit one from under the mantel for many years, has sparked this interest. Of course, not being part of the higher class I must view the insights of White Mischief as a voyeur of the recent past. The movie provided an exceptional glimpse into this lost world and for that I must congratulate all concerned with its production.
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idle hands in the British empire
Michael Neumann14 January 2011
This cynical drama set in pre-WWII colonial Kenya (where the lifestyles of the rich and decadent were enhanced by casual drug abuse and infidelity) presents a glossy but unfocused account of a May-December marriage of convenience, brought to a tragic end after one too many indiscreet liaisons between frustrated young wife Greta Scacchi and local Casanova Charles Dance. The film is based on a true story, widely reported at the time (in England, at least), and like its two lovers is cool and dispassionate and pleasant to look at. But the script makes the fatal mistake of sanitizing the illicit affair with feelings of true love, and because all the sex is conducted with such impeccable protocol the effect is more polite than shocking. Director and co-writer Michael Radford's script is full of barbed and witty dialogue, but re-writes history for a dramatically tidy (and quite bloody) resolution.
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Well made trashy melodrama
rosscinema9 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
This story is loosely based on a real scandal that occurred in Kenya during the second world war and the film captures all the decadent events that were happening in an area nicknamed "Happy Valley". Story takes place in 1940 in Kenya where Sir Jock Delves Broughton (Joss Ackland) has brought back with him a much younger bride. Jock is in his 60's and his new bride Diana (Greta Scacchi) is probably more than 30 years younger. Diana meets the assorted British colonists that live there and spend their time drinking and going to parties and having sex with one another. Diana meets the local stud Josslyn Hay (Charles Dance) and it doesn't take long before the two are having a very public affair much to the chagrin of Jock. One night Joss drops Diana off and proceeds to drive down the road when someone appears out of the darkness and shoots Joss in the head killing him.


Jock is quickly accused of the murder and has to stand trial where it becomes a media circus. Jock is acquitted of the murder of Joss and Diana goes back to live with him but has serious thoughts that he was in fact guilty of her lovers murder. This film was directed by Michael Radford who also had directed the vastly underrated "1984". He would go on to direct other interesting films such as "Il Postino", "B. Monkey" and "Dancing at the Blue Iguana". In those films Radford has shown a knack for filming stories in exotic locations and also showing the more decadent lifestyles of individuals. He does that here in this film as well and even though the material is presented in a trashy manner, Radford still creates genuine moments with effective atmosphere. Scacchi is utterly beautiful to watch and her nude scenes are not easily forgotten. The best performance in the film comes from Ackland who has spent most of his film career being a character actor. His most effective scene is where he is sitting on his bed with a tear coming down his face while he contemplates what he should do. John Hurt plays a character named Gilbert Colvile and barely utters more than two words at a time. I had the feeling that his character was there just to make him another suspect in the murder. One of the more interesting bits of casting (For me anyway) is Jacqueline Pearce as Idina. I grew up watching Pearce in the Hammer horror films and it was quite the sight to see her in the nude in this film. Despite her age she was still very beautiful to look at. Also, a very young Hugh Grant has a small role at the beginning of the film. This is definitely a step down for a good director like Radford but he does capture the spirit of these people who are doing they're best to ignore the fact that a war is raging on in their own home country. The last shot in the film perfectly illustrates this as everyone gets together at the funeral of a close friend to have another party.
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Catherine Tramell's adventures in the happy valley
jovana-136767 October 2017
Basic Instinct set in Kenya at the end of Art Deco era which also marks the beginning of WWII. That means, the costumes and sets are gorgeous. Bravo! Greta Scacchi is stunning and we get full frontal nudity from her and Charles Dance... and everybody else. Greta Scacchi looks like a proper Hollywood golden age movie star, just looking at her perfect nails and hairdo makes me forget about the trivialities such as the depth of the character, etc. Every frame is gorgeous and perfectly lit. And the decadence - the drug use, the orgies, the masturbation to a corpse in a morgue, that's all glorious to watch in this dull era of superhero films and sequels and dramas that boast 'strong' female characters. It only lacks more... well, nudity. I feel that the romance between the two main protagonists ends too quickly for us to give a damn. But maybe that would have turned it into a 'soapy' melodrama. Maybe we can't relate to the whole situations because the characters have very few or zero redeeming qualities and, after all, they are the idle rich - we are not, but still. The film has a TV feel to it, like one of those Agatha Christie adaptations, which I'm not sure is bad; I adore these films. British aristocracy stuck in their lavish mansions; that's been a part of the Gothic lore ever since the folk tales were invented, and I'm sure it's them who invented them. This film is very dreamy and at the same time scary. There's a sense of a curse, that all the characters have been cursed, especially in the last scene which is like a picnic with the dead.
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The Good Life
dougdoepke18 January 2016
Seldom has social rot been more beautifully photographed than here. It's 1940. Bombs are raining down on London, soldiers are dying across Europe, Hitler is on the rise, yet not a drop of alcohol is being spilled by the rich and idle colonialists of British east Africa. Time is spent drinking and gossiping, drinking and swapping mates, drinking and dancing, and drinking and cross-dressing. It's all really rather empty and boring, sort of a sub-Saharan "La Dolce Vita", summed up in the death-mask visage of the sumptuous Greta Scacchi. Once jealousy takes hold, it's fun to watch the emotions build and shake loose behind these perfectly mannered mannikins.

Based on an actual murder case, the movie is salvaged from cliché by the elegantly understated style of the film-makers, who know how to both seduce and make a subtle point. Two scenes stay with me. A black man-servant sets up targets for practicing colonialists and narrowly escapes being shot in the process. The episode passes quickly, but it's evident the elitist whites take no notice of what almost happened -- a whole little world captured in one fleeting event. The other is the deathless and x-rated line -- "Oh my God! Not another f...king beautiful day." -- uttered by the super-jaded Sarah Miles as she surveys yet one more splendorous sunrise from the veranda of one of the film's many lush mansions. For contrast, there is John Hurt's scruffy and enigmatic "Gilbert", reputedly the richest man in Kenya, and a fascinating study in laconic reserve. What exactly is going on behind that wide- eyed stare and silent tongue -- envy? disgust? It's probably best that we never know. Anyway, this is an all-around first rate production that qualifies for permanent cult status and promises to remain with you long after the final scene has faded from view.
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Idle hands
tomsview25 December 2015
Although I wouldn't say this is a great movie, it is definitely an entertaining one.

The film tells the mostly true story of the fairly outrageous goings on amongst upper class Britons in Kenya during WW2. If the film does anything, it captures that outrageous spirit perfectly.

Aging Sir John Henry Delves Broughton (Joss Ackland) leaves war-torn England with his beautiful young wife, Diana (Greta Scacchi), to oversee his properties in British Kenya. They join other ex-pat aristocrats in the incongruously named Happy Valley community. Although cocooned from the war in Europe, the denizens of the valley are completely at the mercy of the boredom generated by their privileged lifestyles, and their overheated libidos.

They joyously encourage new arrivals to cheat on their partners, and then just as joyously inform the other halves about what is going on. Broughton begins to realise that he has something more disturbing than German bombs and falling commodity prices to worry about when Diana begins an open affair with Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll (Charles Dance).

Eventually it all ends in tears, murder and suicide.

The film was not successful at the box office, and it's hard to pick just what put people off. However there is a fair amount of nudity in the film, which I think still tends to alienate mainstream audiences. Maybe the whole thing sounded too unsavoury - Diana is irresistible to males, especially older ones with even Trevor Howard's character peeping at her in the bath. There isn't anyone in the story whose intentions are strictly honourable.

But with that said, the performances are fascinating. Joss Ackland is superb; we feel his humiliation as the virile Erroll offers Diana what he can't.

The 1940's probably wasn't the most flattering period for fashions, however Greta Scacchi looks stunning in them - she reminded me of Lana Turner in "The Postman Always Rings Twice".

Charles Dance exudes an element of danger, much like Vincent Cassel. Tall and lithe, he wears black tie beautifully, but when he strips down you see how fit and agile he is - not a man to be trifled with.

"White Mischief" has a certain pace and style and glides by easily. It stays in the memory, and is a long way from being a bad movie.
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a shortened storyline taken from earlier film
elgorrion24 June 2006
The performances of Sarah Miles and John Hurt make this film worth watching; however it is disappointing that Michael Radford does not use the full storyline of the original film : "The Happy Valley" - made in 1987, nor is the source acknowledged in the credits. Other than that it is quite a good remake, but the original should not be missed, as the story continues for some length - indeed the end of "White Mischief" is about the halfway point of the story in "The Happy Valley". This is another of Radford's remakes that seemed to receive acclaim as if it were an original concept - just as his version of the tale of Pablo Neruda - "Il Postino" - was taken from the lesser known earlier film "Ardiente Pacientia" (Burning Patience) which for my money was the the better film.
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The extraordinarily dull lives of the aristocracy
Leofwine_draca10 February 2014
WHITE MISCHIEF purports to tell the true story of a murder that shocked British colonials living in Kenya during the 1940s. It's a familiar milieu for those of us who've seen anything of GOSFORD PARK, DOWNTOWN ABBEY, etc., with slightly bizarre aristocrats wining, dining and, of course, sleeping together against a hedonistic backdrop of the pursuit of pleasure.

The problem with WHITE MISCHIEF is a simple one: the characters are all so dull. The pretty-but-vacuous lead character, played by Greta Scacchi, is a fine example of this; she has absolutely no depth or presence, nothing on which to centre the viewer's attention. The male cast members, particularly Joss Ackland and Charles Dance, are by far the more interesting, but even these have little to work with.

For fans of British cinema, WHITE MISCHIEF is worth catching thanks to the presence of numerous familiar faces, including Ray McAnally, Trevor Howard, John Hurt and Geraldine Chaplin. There are also turns for a couple of youngsters, Hugh Grant and Gregor Fisher, and an eye-popping cameo from Hammer starlet Jacqueline Pearce (THE REPTILE).

Sadly, though, I found this dull and sleep-inducing for the most part, despite the interest generated by the murder sub-plot. That and the subsequent court case are intriguing, as is Ackland at the climax, but the rest of the film is just an entirely forgettable example of the extraordinarily dull lives of the aristocracy and why they are best ignored for the most part.
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A spotty script, but with haunting moments
moonspinner5514 July 2007
Michael Radford directed and co-wrote this adaptation of James Fox's book taking place in Kenya during World War II. High society Brits evade the swarming Nazis by hiding out in Africa while money-hungry Greta Scacchi gets caught up in heated love-triangle. Languid, slowly-paced British-made drama without enough inner-fire; the handling is awfully sullen, and clichés abound, despite attractive locales and sexy Greta spicing the scenario. Terrific supporting cast includes John Hurt, Hugh Grant, and Geraldine Chaplin, yet they can't do much to infuse the film with life. Radford does pull off an amazing finale however, and his final shot is haunting. ** from ****
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Feels like a Sunday night BBC mini-series - 56%
Benjamin Cox1 November 2004
It's funny how you remember certain details with regards to certain films. I'll always remember that "Gremlins 2" was the first movie I taped on my VCR machine and that this was the first movie that I watched on my personal TV in my room. The reason being, I had not long turned 13 and the listings described this as an "erotic thriller". Now, it looks about as erotic as an episode of "Songs of Praise".

"White Mischief" takes us to Kenya in the early days of WWII. A rich landowner and his young wife (Joss Acklund and Greta Scacchi) arrive to escape the Blitz and settle in a colony of affluent, upper class aristocrats. However, she soon falls in love with the dashing Earl of Erroll (Charles Dance), causing a scandal in the community. Things come to a tragic head, however, when the Earl is murdered. Anything beyond that, I can't really tell you because this film moves so slowly and so little seems to happen that other details just seemed to vanish in a hazy blur.

Credit where it's due, the production values are fantastic. Like most BBC period productions, the costumes are spot-on and the unusual setting is completely believable on screen. Locations, music, dialogue etc. are all as you'd expect, although Scacchi's character occasionally looks like a 1950's Hollywood starlet, rather than a 1940's Lady. Nothing wrong with the performances either, though with a cast like this, a dodgy performance was probably the last thing you'd expect. The fatal flaw, in my eyes, is that most viewers will not have any chance of identifying themselves with the characters. It feels like a dramatised version of a Mills & Boon novel and the feeling of detachment is unsettling. The other flaw is that it runs so slow. By the time of the trial into the death of the Earl of whatever-it-was, the film had failed my Nokia test - only it hadn't technically. Instead of playing Backgammon on my mobile (battery was dead), I flicked over to watch Jennifer Love Hewitt take a shower in "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer". And quite frankly, no part of this film can compete with that.

If you're interested in the period then you might take something from this. Otherwise, I can't see why it was ever released as a film. It might have been better as one of those Sunday evenings shows that the BBC like so much like "Ballykissangel" or "Monarch Of The Glen" (shudders). Editing would have removed some the (rather pointless) tit shots and apart from this, this is precisely the sort of bland, middle-of-the-road, inoffensive twaddle that seems to occupy that slot in the listings. Sorry but the only mischievous thing about this film is the title, implying that the whole film is little more than a trifle inconvenience in the lives of the characters and a trifle boring for the viewer.
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alone and deranged
ptb-811 September 2004
What a demented film! It should be a late night cult classic like Rocky Horror or Blues Bros with the audience hooting and participating at every step, dressing up in character and swilling drinks, dead dogs, accordions, knives, whatever.....causing all sorts of audience mischief in tune with the on screen antics. A loaded cast in every way stagger across the veldt screwing and drinking and making a right old priviliged mess of their rich surroundings. I am sure th cast all laughed all the way to the bank with their fee, and I am not sure where the script ended and the camera kept rolling. The best way to enjoy this berserk trash is to get a group of friends quite drunk and put it on, over reacting and yowling at every scene. It is great fun.
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Moderate film of a dazzling historical event
Arun Vajpey2 August 2007
Even with the rather unimaginative script and lacklustre direction, WHITE MISCHIEF comes across as a good movie, largely because of the times and the place. But I cannot help feeling that a great opportunity was missed here to make a really memorable period piece considering the plot and setting. The fantastic location of Kenya's 'Happy Valley', the hedonistic lifestyle of the White settlers in the face of the war in Europe, the love triangle that led to Lord Erroll's murder and the subsequent dead-end investigation - all cried out for a more inspirational handling than the rather insipid effort by Michael Radford who both wrote the script and directed the film. Even Roger Deakins' cinematography was nothing to shout about.

Still, the film does manage to make something of a mark, thanks largely to great performances by Joss Ackland, Sara Miles and to some extent, Greta Scacchi. I debated for a while whether or not to buy the DVD and on balance decided that it was a worthwhile investment.
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