Heavens Above! – 1963 | 105mins | Comedy | B&W
Thanks to a Church of England filing error, the Reverend John Smallwood appointed as Vicar of Orbiston Parva is not the safely conventional Smallwood recommended by Archdeacon Aspinall (Cecil Parker), but Smallwood (Peter Sellers), an idealistic prison chaplain whose gaffes include being left trussed up in his underwear by convict Fred Smith (Roy Kinnear), who nearly gets away in his clerical clothes.
Although no one comes to meet him at the station, Smallwood, a cheerful, resilient, unpretentious chap, gets a lift in a rubbish cart from a black dustman, Matthew (Brock Peters), who turns out to be a fellow Christian, and appoints him churchwarden, in place of Major Fowler (William Hartnell), a grasping town councillor. Smallwood’s next social shake-up is giving shelter in his vicarage to the Smith family, a work shy, although benefits-rich, lumpen “tribe” comprising of Harry and Rene (Eric Sykes, Irene Handl), their sister Winnie (Miriam Karlin), and many grubby offspring. The local council has just evicted them from their ancient squat; whose planning rules Fowler has bent to allow expansion by the Tranquilax laxative factory. However, Lady Despard (Isabel Jeans), widow of the firm’s founder and still its majority shareholder, “sees the light” and, moved by Smallwood’s version of the social gospel, distributes produce free from her farm, and then sells her Tranquilax shares to fund her Christian generosity, which Smallwood expects to bring out the best in people. But their free give-away hits small shopkeepers; her selling Tranquilax stock sends shares crashing; its workers are laid off, and local unemployment tops 60%.
Meanwhile, Fred rejoins the Smith tribe and starts stealing lead from the church roof. Bishop Goodbody and the Archdeacon hire psychiatrist Rockerby (Miles Malleson), to examine their problem Vicar, and, although he interviews the wrong Smallwood (Ian Carmichael), he diagnoses paranoid schizophrenia. Lady Despard’s apparently senile, but actually wily, family butler, Simpson (Bernard Miles), contrives “a sign from God” instructing her to cut out all this charity forthwith, and Smallwood is left to face angrily demanding crowds plus protest demos against his generosity by virtually every community group, from Tranquilax trades unionists to rival Christian sects alleging unfair competition for converts. The police smuggle him to safety in a rubbish cart, and the Church hierarchy appoints him Bishop of three remote islands. But a tiny rocket station brings him headline notoriety as “Bishop of Outer Space”, and, when a nervous astronaut whom Smallwood insists on counselling complains that the Church rarely practises what it preaches, Smallwood proves otherwise by trussing him up, donning his space-suit, and orbiting the Earth, warbling hymns.
John Boulting: Director
Albert Witherick: Art Direction
Mutz Greenbaum: Cinematography
David Ffolkes: Costume Design
Teddy Darvas: Editing
Richard Rodney Bennett: Music
John Boulting: Producer
Roy Boulting: Producer
John Boulting: Script
Frank Harvey: Script