|Release Date: Nov. 25, 1963|
A simple clerical error gives rise to a case of mistaken identities in this witty and intelligent parody of British society and the Church of England. The "wrong" Reverend John Smallwood (Peter Sellers), a prison chaplain, is appointed Vicar of wealthy Orbiston Parva. He immediately convinces local patron Lady Despard (Isabel Jeans) to sell her shares of the town's main employer,Tranquillax, a maker of a popular sedative/laxative potion. Oblivious to the effect of her actions on the share price and local economy, Lady Despard with the help of Rev. Smallwood uses the proceeds to provide free food to local residents. Her Christian generosity hurts local shopkeepers and causes unemployment to soar. The Vicar causes further resentment by replacing a town councillor, who has served as church warden for many years, with a "black" man. He also raises eyebrows by offering living quarters in the Vicarage to a do-nothing couple on social assistance, who were evicted with their 11 children from a squatter home to make way for an expansion of the Tranquillax factory. They take advantage of his generosity by stealing not only food but also the lead roof on the church!
There is plenty of clever parody and irony as events spin out of control. Archdeacon Aspinall (Cecil Parker) orders a psychiatric evaluation of Smallwood. But when the "real" Smallwood shows up to claim his new position, the psychiatrist interviews him by mistake, and declares him mentally unsound. In desperation, the Church authorities decide to transfer the troublemaking Vicar to three northern islands whose few inhabitants work at a remote rocket station. Bishop Smallwood ends up circling the earth and singing his message of love and peace from the Heavens Above!
This 105 minute black-and-white film, directed by John Boulting, succeeds as a parody on many levels. It dares to poke fun at the British class system, the foibles of Church administration, ingrained racism and the dangers of untempered idealism. Sellers achieved greater fame and fortune with his more popular Pink Panther films, but this movie is an unpretentious gem that is well worth a view.