The History of Mr Polly Review
Mr Polly is a dream sort of man, forever thinking about knights in shining armour when he ought to be concentrating on the selling of goods in his employer's store. Eventually, this leads to his sacking, after which he leads an aimless few days wondering what to do next, which is made more difficult by his not having a penny to his name. But word comes quickly about his father, a man that Polly never liked in life but who has just died and who might well have demanded a grand funeral but who has also left Polly a sizeable sum of money in his will. Things suddenly begin looking up in the otherwise middling life of Mr Polly.
But even then Mr Polly wastes his inheritance and his time away, spending long afternoons talking to Christabel, a young schoolgirl who, too late it would seem, he realises has been laughing at him with her school friends. Disappointed and suspecting life holds little reward for him, Polly marries a cousin of his, Miriam Larkin, but they have not even arrived to holiday at their honeymoon when he realises what a dreadful mistake he has made. Again, Polly errors in his opening up a shop to earn a trade, one that he quickly grows to hate, as he does his neighbours, his wife and his own life. Feeling lost, Polly resolves to end it all, sending his wife out to church and going upstairs in his little shop with nothing for company but a jar of petrol and a box of matches...
Which isn't really the way that one would expect a comic novel to end. Be thankful, then, that it does not, leaping to life again as Polly, who's really not at all suited to city life, packs up and leaves for the country. At once, the film seems reborn, becoming imaginative once again where it had promised to look as bleak as the sixties social dramas once favoured by the British film industry. Instead, The History Of Mr Polly jumps out of the kitchen sink and into the world of Pop Larkin, wherein a kerchief, an open neck and a loose pair of trousers are all that one needs to lead a man into all manner of countrified mischief. And so it proves when Mr Polly reaches a kind of happiness punting passengers across a river, does odd jobs about a pub, looks after the young niece of the owner of the Potwell and does a little fishing on the side. More than that, though, is his happiness at the clean air and the clear night sky.
At such a moment, The History Of Mr Polly finds its form again and snags our sympathies just when they had threatened to drift elsewhere. He does, it's fair to say, throw away what little life he had in the city in favour of milling about in parks and ambling down streets, with his marriage to the awful Miriam being just desserts for so feckless a man. There is, hero of the story or not, a certain pleasure to be had in watching him suffer in a rotten marriage. But come his journey into the country, things pick up with Mr Polly doing the decent thing instead of beginning useless fights with his neighbours. Soon, there's even an element of care to his efforts, his taking on the wicked Uncle Jim to save the Potwell, save his own job and to stop Little Polly learning any swear words.
The ending of The History Of Mr Polly is a treat compared to the rather dull middle. Though the threat presented by the arrival of Uncle Jim is played more for laughs here than he might had he been included in a thriller. How else is one to take him when we hear the tear of his trousers spitting during his sneaking in to kill Mr Polly. But such a turn of events leads to a very satisfying ending in which Polly briefly returns to London and leaves again, happy with his humble lot in life. Mills is excellent in part of Mr Polly and though the women in his life are generally, with the exception of Little Polly played by Mills' daughter Juliet, harridans, there is a good deal to enjoy in watching Polly being unable to cope with them. However, there is the feeling that much is missing from the story with the leaps in the film's plotting being too great for the story to cope with. Diverting enough for an afternoon, The History Of Mr Polly isn't a marvellous film but has its moments, be that there are more of them in the film's final thirty minutes than in its opening hour.
Presented in 1.33:1 and in sometimes lovely black-and-white, The History Of Mr Polly isn't a bad looking release but there are moments when the print lets the DVD down. In the first hour or so, it's fine but once Mr Polly moves to the countryside, the washes of noise the comings and goings of the contrast and faults become more obvious as is the background hiss behind the dialogue. Both were almost certainly there throughout but both the picture and the soundtrack are quieter in that part of the film set in the country than in the bustle of the city and the problems in the print become more noticeable. However, except for those films that have been lovingly restored by the likes of Warner Brothers, such things are to be expected with archive releases, certainly from Granada but also from the likes of Optimum and Network.
There's a decent selection of extras on this DVD, having much to do with John Mills rather than The History Of Mr Polly. Whilst a .pdf version of the book would have been most welcome - being out of copyright, you can download it for free from the Gutenberg Project if you follow this link - what we do have is a couple of interviews with John Mills, an Image Gallery and an episode of Tales Of The Unexpected. Unfortunately, neither interview is a particularly piercing one. Michael Aspel (15m28s), when hosting his very own ITV chat show might as well not have shown up for all that he gets out of Mills whilst the other, Sunday Sunday (11m27s) hosted by Gloria Hunniford, sees the actor on good form but lacking support from the interviewer. I hate Gloria Hunniford, there being something awful about the vast shoulderpads that she wears, the clothes that never sit comfortably on her and a scrawny old neck that hints at the hours spent in make-up shovelling filler into her wrinkles. Add all that to an accent that aims for the posh end of Northern Irish - somewhere between Bangor and Cherry Valley - and you have a rough old piece of mutton dressed up like lamb. She has all the interviewing skills of a goat and Mills would have been better had he just chatted amiably into the camera.
The episode of Tales Of The Unexpected is altogether better, much like coming upon a much-missed show in the final minutes before bedtime. It is introduced by Roald Dahl who begins talking about the scars on his bottom, which, having some knowledge of the British public school education system, implies that we'll see something of the mistreatment of schoolchildren by wicked prefects who were themselves thrashed with the cane in their younger years. John Mills plays a businessman who finds himself rattled when his place on a station platform as well as his seat are taken by a stranger. Over the next few days, Mills reclaims both but then recognises the man as 'Galloping' Foxley, the head of school who bullied Mills when he was a younger man. As the memories flood back, Mills plans his revenge but Foxley has the final word.