Mills at War, 1940–45: The nation incarnate?

Gill Plain

in John Mills and British Cinema

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print March 2006 | ISBN: 9780748621071
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651092 | DOI:
Mills at War, 1940–45: The nation incarnate?

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Who or what is the soldier hero of World War II? One of the characteristic devices of British cinema in this period was an attempt to foster a democratic spirit. The hero became not only Everyman but also Everywoman. Moreover, heroism was no longer seen to be the preserve of the special individual but rather a quality emerging from shared values and beliefs, a powerful ideological shift that gave rise, as the war progressed, to what might be termed the ‘composite’ hero. What makes actor John Mills stand out from the mass as a particularly resonant embodiment of the World War II soldier hero? Ian Dalrymple's propaganda-cum-recruitment comedy Old Bill and Son (1940) is worth attention both as a transitional film in the development of Mills's screen persona, and as an attempt to cinematically imagine a war that was happening, but which had not, in any clearly representational sense, yet ‘happened’. This chapter looks at the films We Dive at Dawn (1943), The Way to the Stars and Waterloo Road (1945).

Keywords: World War II; soldier hero; John Mills; heroism; Old Bill; screen persona; Dive at Dawn; Way to Stars; British cinema; Waterloo Road

Chapter.  16111 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film

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