A film directed by Michael Radford
based on the novel by James Fox
with Greta Scacchi, Joss Ackland and Charles Dance.
Order the book by James Fox from
[Added on July 13, 2011: Just found an English version of
the DVD, which was banned in the UK for many years:
Article added in May 2000
The movie White Mischief begins with lines
introducing the movie-goers to the situation of November 1940. At the peak of
the Blitz. Every night wave after wave of Nazi bombers brought death and
destruction. But the British people stood firm, determined to hold out at any
cost. In Contrast to this heroic introduction, the first images of White
Mischief are supposed to show the decadence of the British upper class. Fighter
aircraft fly over the roof of a manor house. Lord Henry "Jock"
Broughton (Joss Ackland) walks down the stairs leading to his garden. He tells
his tax advisor that he wants to sell the estate and move to Africa. His
consultant advises him against it since landed property is the best investment
in war times. The elderly Lord Broughton replies: And if we lose the war, have
you ever thought about that? Then, beautiful and young Diana (Greta Scacchi)
approaches them riding a horse.
The same evening, Diana tells her friend Hugh (Hugh Grant)
that she loves elderly men because they have more money. Later, in an
underground shelter she proposes a toast to the lions, tigers and rich men to be
encountered in Africa (as Lord Broughton's wife). Hugh replies that there are no
tigers but "ostriches, baboons and hyenas" - more than a
"hint" by director Michael Radford towards the people Diana is about to
encounter in Kenya. She also drinks to her - future - honesty (wishful thinking?).
With a few words and scenes, Michael Radford explains the
story's context, introduces the protagonists and their motivations. The
following scenes taking place in Kenya are in the same style. British are
playing polo in 1940 - the year Europe is ravaged by war. Again, the decadence
of the upper class - and especially of the so-called Happy Valley Clique which
is famous for its erotic games - is highlighted.
Jock says he came to Kenya because there he can better serve
England. Of course, in reality, he escapes from war and responsibility. He wants
to set up a farm in order to supply the British army - a "civic
enterprise" or a money-making machine. A drought will later put an end to
these dreams which were an illusion from the beginning since the climate is
inappropriate for such an enterprise.
Jock will later become bankrupt but before that happens, his wife
(a convincing Greta Scacchi) has a love affair with the British officer Errol
(Charles Dance in one of the best roles of his career). Errol is the
irresistible playboy of the Happy Valley Clique. Diana is no exception and falls
under his charm. But in fact both are in love and they do not hide it. Jock gets
an anonymous message, probably from a former lover of Errol: "There's
no fool like an old fool". By the way, already in the first scenes which
place in Kenya, Diana responds to the indiscreet question of a friend (Geraldine Chaplin)
by saying that she only has sex with Jock from time to time.
In a talk with his "friend"
Erroll, Jock begs him to
end the affair. Errol reminds Jock of himself as a young man. The
officer, with an arrogant expression in his face, answers: "Really?"
First, Jock thinks about moving to Ceylon with Diana but then, he seems to put
up with the situation and ready to set Diana free.
The story is based on the novel White
Mischief by James Fox whose book, in turn, relies on true facts. On January
24, 1941, an officer (Errol in the film) was found shot in Kenya. This fait
divers created a scandal that was discussed in all the Empire's newspapers.
The first half of White
Mischief is about the affair between Diana and Errol as
well as about the decadence of the British elite. The second part begins with
Errol's murder, its trial and the changes in the relationship between Jock and
The film employs first class actors even in minor roles, e.g. John Hurt as
Robert Colville, a self-neglected outsider living with indigenous people who,
despite these facts, is part of the Happy Valley Clique. After the murder of
Errol, he cares about Diana who first turns - in disgust - the unattractive man away. The devastating description of this very special British
upper class in Kenya and its erotic games in the midst of World War II may
disturb some viewers - it is not a film for politically and morally correct people.
For my part, I love the film since I first saw it at its premiere in the presence of
Michael Radford (but I cannot remember what the questions and answers between
the director and public following the screening were all about).
White Mischief. Order the book by James Fox from
(German title: Die letzten Tage in Kenya). [Added
on July 13, 2011: Just found an English version of the DVD, which was banned
in the UK for many years:
Director Michael Radford has made very different films in his career: White
Mischief (1987), Il Postino (1994), B. Monkey (1999).
Actress Greta Scacchi was born in 1960 as the daughter of an English
dancer and an Italian painter (not verified information). She grew up in England
and Australia. Among her films are: Heat and Dust (1982), Good Morning
Babylon (1986), The Killing Beach (1991), The Player (1992), Schrei
in die Vergangenheit (1994), Jefferson in Paris (1995), Emma (1996),
The Red Violin (1998).
Actor Charles Dance was born in Plymouth, England, in 1946. Among his
films are: Auf der Suche nach dem goldenen Kind (1986), Die vergessene
Insel (1987), Mord unter südlicher Sonne (1988), The Phantom of
the Opera (1990), Alien 3 (1991), The Last Action Hero (1993),
Teufel im Paradies (1994), Im Auge des Hurricans (1995), Space