Sir John Mills

Sir John Mills has achieved international acclaim during his long life as an actor; a brief profile of his screen career.

Born in Felixstowe, Suffolk in 1908 Sir John Mills is now a veteran actor of 92. In early 2000 his photographic autobiography Still Memories was published. A pictorial memoir, it beautifully captures an outstanding career that spans most of the twentieth century. Blending both the personal and professional, the book is also a chronicle of cinema in its golden age, with legendary stars of the silver screen appearing on every page alongside family photos.

Mills was apparently convinced of his destiny from the age of six and says,'I never considered anything else.' He started his professional life in musical revue, was spotted by Noel Coward and then, after resisting the siren call of Hollywood, created a sterling career playing the quintessential English hero on screen to perfection. After practising his craft on stage Mills had relished the opportunity to branch out in film, viewing it as a stimulating challenge rather than a necessary evil as many young actors did at the time - convinced this faddish new medium was ephemeral. As the fates would have it, film was to bring him international renown.

Mills, who has starred in over 100 films to date, began his screen career in military roles and these became the ones most readily identified with him. Starting with films like Forever England, We Dive at Dawn and the classic In Which We Serve (in which he worked with his mentor Coward), Mills proceeded to play a wide variety of service types, cementing his reputation as the epitome of decency and integrity. Notable roles in this vein include The Colditz Story and The Way to the Stars. As his career progressed so his parts became more complex, his heroes fundamentally flawed; examples being Ice Cold in Alex and Tunes of Glory and, later on in his career, in a satirical role subverting the genre, Oh What a Lovely War! Mills has always wisely placed the script rather than the star wattage first and this policy has yielded some of his finest roles, often in what would be dubbed character parts; Willy Mossop in Hobson's Choice, or perhaps most notably his Oscar-winning Michael in David Lean's Ryan's Daughter which he's rightly described as ' a wonderful part' and certainly well earned.

Mills has forged some durable partnerships with directors over the years;probably the most fruitful being that with the legendary Lean whose superb version of Great Expectations Mills considers 'marvellous', one of his favourite films. Others which gain his warm approbation include Tunes of Glory (which reteamed him with Great Expectations co-star Alec Guinness)and Scott of the Antarctic which was filmed in what Mills describes as 'very, very tough conditions.'

Mills has worked as both producer and director too;in the latter capacity he directed daughter Hayley (who became an internationally famous child star)in Sky West and Crooked and in the former role produced both the Rocking Horse Winner and The History of Mr Polly. Polly occupies a special place in his affections as it was his first producing venture and starred his other daughter Juliet as a child. One of the films that can truly be called a family collaboration was Whistle Down the Wind, penned by Mills' playwright wife Mary Hayley Bell and brought to the screen with none other than Hayley Mills as the girl who mistakes a runaway convict for Jesus Christ.

John Mills still clearly thrives on acting and has maintained an active cinematic career right up to the present day, appearing in Kenneth Branagh's acclaimed Hamlet in 1996 and several distinguished television series throughout the Nineties. Any intimation of retirement has been vehemently dismissed and there's no doubt that for such a consummate professional further challenges still lie ahead.

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