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John Mills and British CinemaMasculinity, Identity and Nation$
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Gill Plain

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780748621071

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748621071.001.0001

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Playing the Fool: Comedy and the end of Everyman

Playing the Fool: Comedy and the end of Everyman

(p.207) 7 Playing the Fool: Comedy and the end of Everyman
John Mills and British Cinema

Gill Plain

Edinburgh University Press

Comedy is a form that facilitates the disruption of gender norms, both through the stereotypical inversions of the hen-pecked husband and the shrewish wife, and through more subtle manipulations of conventional gender roles. But what can the transgressions of comedy and John Mills's intermittent performances in comic roles tell us about the changing shape of English masculinity? While actors such as Terry Thomas, Richard Attenborough and George Cole became part of a cross-class gallery of English rogues, fools were perhaps most memorably embodied by Ian Carmichael and Norman Wisdom. In the post-war world it became increasingly impossible for the contemporary Everyman to be anything other than comic, because only from the fool's privileged position of social illiteracy could the fast-reforming boundaries of society be disrupted. In a hybrid decade of radical impulse and reactionary practice, misunderstanding the rules became the most ‘acceptable’ way of challenging them. This chapter examines three Mills comedies: The History of Mr Polly (1949), Hobson's Choice (1954) and Ryan's Daughter (1970).

Keywords:   John Mills, comedy, Hobson's Choice, transgressions, masculinity, gender, fools, rogues, Everyman, Mr Polly

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