Roy Boulting Release date23 May 1963 (1963-05-23) (UK) WriterFrank Harvey (original story), John Boulting (original story), Frank Harvey (screenplay), John Boulting (screenplay), Malcolm Muggeridge (idea) DirectorsRoy Boulting, John Boulting CastPeter Sellers (The Rev. John Smallwood), Cecil Parker (Archdeacon Aspinall), Isabel Jeans (Lady Despard), Ian Carmichael (The Other Smallwood), Bernard Miles (Simpson), Brock Peters (Matthew Robinson) Similar moviesRelated Roy Boulting movies, Related John Boulting movies
TaglineWhere "I'm All Right Jack" left off…this takes off!
Heavens Above! is a 1963 British satirical comedy film starring Peter Sellers, directed by John and Roy Boulting, who also co-wrote along with Frank Harvey, from an idea by Malcolm Muggeridge. It is in much the same vein as the earlier collaboration between Sellers, Harvey and the Boultings, I'm All Right Jack.
The plot features Sellers as a naive but caring prison chaplain accidentally assigned as vicar to the small and prosperous country town of Orbiston Parva, in place of Ian Carmichael's upper class cleric, with whom he shares a name. His belief in charity and forgiveness sets him at odds with the locals, whose assertions that they are good, Christian people are in Smallwood's view belied by their behaviour and ideas. He creates social ructions by appointing a black dustman (Brock Peters) as his churchwarden, taking in a gypsy family, and persuading local landowner Lady Despard (Isabel Jeans) to provide free food for the church to distribute free to the people of the town. However, all his good works lead to trouble.
The cast includes several noteworthy uncredited performers: A Hard Day's Night actor John Junkin, Rodney Bewes, who has a couple of lines as a milkman, and future Small Faces and Humble Pie singer Steve Marriott. Sellers' performance is generally held to be outstanding, in a meatier, more dramatic role, similar to his work in I'm All Right Jack, released in 1959.
The film premiered in London on 23 May 1963 at the Columbia Cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue (today known as Curzon Soho), and although it disappointed the critic for The Times, who found it lacking the mild bite and satire of the Boulting-Seller film I'm All Right Jack, it became one of the 12 most popular films in Britain in 1963.
An article in Garden History likened the character of the Reverend John Smallwood to that of an 18th-century picturesque guru William Gilpin: "The first act of the new reverend is to invite a group of colourful travellers to reside in the vicarage; the second is to convince an old lady to open her house and grounds to all sorts of poor vagabonds, scruffs and vagrants, characters who bring picturesque values to the noble scene. Eventually, a picturesque economic system based on free donation causes havoc in the village and the nation - the reverend is made a bishop and sent into space, in Britain's first spaceship. The film revives a character that one can safely imagine as a modern version of Doctor Syntax - cordial, dedicated, stubborn, fearless, not reacting against, but slightly diverging from, the established values of his culture."
The misposting of the protagonist based on similarity of name echoes that in the Evelyn Waugh novel Scoop.
Like other Boulting films, Heavens Above! satirises contemporary attitudes and cautiously espouses a socialist ethos, while also showing the possible deleterious side-effects of such ideas, and the all-too-human tendency to take advantage of naive generosity.
The film is daring in its use of profanity for 1963; Sykes's character at one stage utters the line, "What if it pisses with rain?".