Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 30 March 2012

People We Like: Sarah Miles

We were discussing legendary actresses 0ver at IMDB (Internet Movie Database), few were as individual or quirky as one of my 60s favourites, Sarah Miles, who had a very interesting career until it imploded in a scandal in the '70s. Sarah though survived it all, her books make fascinating reading, and presumably as Robert Bolt's widow (they married twice) she does not need to work now, but it would be nice to see her in older roles where I imagine she could be a very imperious dowager ...

Born in 1941 Sarah burst into the swinging '60s as the schoolgirl accusing her teacher of indecent assault when he spurns her advances, in TERM OF TRIAL in 1962, Peter Glenville's downbeat film where Olivier and Simone Signoret can do nothing much with their roles, the young Terence Stamp was also in it, and Sarah had certainly arrived. She was on the cover of all the magazines at the time. Her brother Christopher also starred her in his amusing short THE SIX SIDED TRIANGLE where she and Nicol Williamson played out romantic triangles in different styles (Swedish, French, Italian, silent movie style etc). She was one of the new British girls along with Julie Christie, Susannah York, Samantha Eggar and Rita Tushingham.
The next film certainly established her, as the slutty, vixenish Vera in Losey's THE SERVANT when Dirk Bogarde introduces her as his sister to master James Fox's elegant Chelsea house .... Vera soon causes things to heat up in this essential 60s drama. She and Fox had already been an item before they were cast in the film.

She then appeared in Laurence Harvey's first directing effort, THE CEREMONY, which I saw as a supporting feature in 1964, a muddled drama about capital punishment which did not make much impression.

THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES was a popular movie (and still is, I caught a tv screening the other day) stuffed with all the comics of the time, like Terry Thomas, Alberto Sordi etc. Sarah is Robert Morley's daughter being wooed by brash American Stuart Whitman and reticent Englishman James Fox again.

The next one is a particular favourite, which I have written about several times here: I WAS HAPPY HERE in 1966, a nice black and white romantic drama by Edna O'Brien (following on from the success of her THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES) about the impossibility of love, and again with an Irish/English background, as Sarah as Cassie in London leaves her uncomprehending husband (Julian Glover) and returns to her Irish village (Lahinch and Liscannor in County Clare) in search of her lost love, fisherman Sean Caffrey. But things cannot be the same, as the husband turns up, and Cyril Cusack presides over the local out of season hotel. It was wonderful seeing this again recently, it deserves to be a lot better known.

Antonioni's BLOW-UP followed, the 1960s in aspic (and my very favourite movie, as per endless dicussions on it) - where photographer David Hemmings takes those photos in the park and when developing them thinks he has seen a murder .... this classic has been discussed and analyzed endlessly and remains a key 60s movie. It resonated a lot with me when I first saw it in 1967 aged 21. Sarah is Patricia, involved with painter John Castle but seemingly wanting to get involved with Hemmings. She only has a few scenes - Vanessa Redgrave scores as the mysterious woman in the park - and when Antonioni told her it did not matter who the man on top of her was (she had wanted to know if he was meant to be her husband or her lover) she more or less left the film, so it was not a happy experience for her.
Her next film was a return to Ireland (County Kerry) this time for what turned out to be the protracted shoot on RYAN'S DAUGHTER, David Lean's overblown epic, with Sarah as the headstrong Rosy Ryan impulsively marrying older school teacher, Robert Mitchum, and then falling for shell-shocked English officer (Christopher Jones)... Like BLOW-UP, RYAN'S DAUGHTER also polarised viewers, some deriding it (critic Pauline Kael for instance) while others love its lush romantics.

By now Sarah was married to screenwriter Robert Bolt, their first marriage was from 1967 to 1975, after RYAN'S DAUGHTER he wrote and directed LADY CAROLINE LAMB for her, it was released in 1973 and again was less than successful but it remains a great costume movie and romantic drama, with a matchless cast led by Olivier, Richardson, Margaret Leighton, Pamela Brown, Richard Chamberlain as Byron who eventually tires of Lady Caroline's excesses and Jon Finch as her husband. Sarah caught the flightly rather tiresome heroine perfectly.

Alan Bridges' THE HIRELING in '73 was a nice little drama with Robert Shaw, but that other L P Hartley adaptation THE GO-BETWEEN got all the publicity and awards.

Then some American movies beckoned: THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING, a very bizarre western where she gets brutally raped, starred Burt Reynolds, but the film became infamous when her manager at the time, who it seems was obsessed about her, killed himself which led to lots of scandalous headlines. There was also an adaptation of GREAT EXPECTIONS where she must have been a good Estella to Margaret Leighton's Miss Havisham - this began as a musical, and then wasn't - but few saw it.

THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA was another odd title at the time, 1976 - very explicit, including some nude photos in "Playboy" magazine which I remember, with her and Kris Kristofferson, from Yukio Mishima, and directed by a '70s name John Lewis Carlino. I only hope that cat was not really harmed in that scene where the children dissect it . . .

Lesser movies followed, and she had divorced Bolt - there was no need for a Michael Winner remake of THE BIG SLEEP in 1978 (did anyone bother to see it?), and she is wasted in VENOM, that brilliant snake on the loose movie in '81, with her ex-lover Nicol Williamson, Oliver Reed and Susan George, as per my review here (Sarah label).

Other 80s movies included an appearance in her brother Christopher's PRIEST OF LOVE about DH Lawrence, but her role mainly ended up on the cutting room floor; and she was tremendous in WHITE MISCHIEF in '87 about those randy aristocrats in Kenya in the 1930s and a famous murder case - Sarah has a saucy scene with the corpse of her lover at the morgue, and I loved her greeting a new dawn ....

She had also done a startling interview with the BBC's Michael Parkinson, where she admitted to drinking her urine (good for the health apparantly) so she had acquired a rather eccentric reputation. John Boorman's HOPE AND GLORY was her last movie of note, as well as Losey's final film STEAMING where she stripped off in this tale set in a ladies sauna, with Vanessa Redgrave and Diana Dors (her final film too), again it was too little seen. Her last credit seems to have been a tv POIROT episode in 2004.

Her memoirs (particularly "Serves Me Right") were fascinating, detailing her on-off dalliance with Laurence Olivier (before her marriage to Bolt), and friends like Laurence Harvey ("I wasn't a very good actor, was I?" he said, watching one of his films while he was dying), and her happy re-marriage to Bolt in 1988, until his death in 1995, as well as her spiritual side, love of animals and that entire Robert Bolt saga.

I also saw her on the stage in the late 70s in another Bolt play VIVAT REGINA where she was Mary Queen of Scots to the Elizabeth I of Margaret Tyzack and Eileen Atkins. It would be good to see Sarah back in action again - Lord Fellowes could write a juicy role for her as say a good friend of Maggie Smith's Countess of Grantham in DOWNTON ABBEY, ideally sparring with Shirley McLaine ... like her contemporaries Julie Christie and Charlotte Rampling (and indeed Romy Schneider until her death in 1982) Sarah was always an individual who did things her way and had no time for the show biz games others play to keep their names in print.

More Sarah: I have just got a novel she wrote in 1998: "Beautiful Mourning", which seems to have been well received, and my pal Jorge in Sao Paulo has recommended another film of hers I do not know at all: THE SILENT TOUCH by Zanussi, made in 1992 - which must never have played in Europe. A copy is now on its way to me, with the intriguing teaming of Max Von Sydown and Sarah as a married couple and also with Lothaire Bluteau. Has to be at least interesting ...

2013 update: 
Like some senior dippy hippie, Sarah, now 71, has opened a healing &relaxation centre, as per her website:
It looks absolutely lovely, with some great photos and I am temped to make a booking myself. I of course saw Sarah recently at that 50th anniversary screening of her 1963 classic THE SERVANT, as per Losey, Bogarde, 1963, James Fox labels. ... 

1 comment:

  1. Sarah Miles is always arresting. Glad you mention the delicious ‘White Mischief ‘ of such a brilliant cast. Sincerely hope Criterion obliges in future a DVD as current transfer is widely held as atrocious. Many people love this from ’87.

    A book by Frances Osborne the great-grand-daughter of Lady Idina Sackville a.k.a. the high priestess of the miscreant group, infamously known as the Happy Valley crowd is titled ‘The Bolter’ 2008 in U.K. It unlocks intimate details of betrayal, heartbreak & tragedy from Idina’s 5 marriages & divorces.

    Clarity regarding a rebellious woman’s dilemma of that time & the troubled consequences for all, flouting the rules of the game.