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Miranda (1948)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Miranda (1948)
35mm, black and white, 80 mins
DirectorKen Annakin
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerBetty E. Box
ScreenplayPeter Blackmore
Additional DialogueDenis Waldock
PhotographyRay Elton
MusicTemple Abady

Cast: Glynis Johns (Miranda), Googie Withers (Clare), Griffith Jones (Paul Marten), John McCallum (Nigel Hood), Margaret Rutherford (Nurse Cary), David Tomlinson (Charles), Yvonne Owen (Betty)

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A Cornish mermaid causes romantic strife when she is taken to London by a young doctor.

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For Britain a rare excursion into fantasy comedy, this has something of the flavour of Hollywood films like René Clair's I Married A Witch (1942) or the Topper series (1937-41). Clair had made The Ghost Goes West in Britain in 1935, but it was the Second World War, which made confronting the reality of death a daily necessity, that is generally credited with increasing popular interest in otherworldly subjects. Much of Michael Powell's wartime work reflects this shift; Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit (d. David Lean, 1945) certainly does. Ealing had tentatively followed suit in Halfway House (d. Basil Dearden, 1944), and Dead of Night (d. Dearden/Alberto Cavalcanti/Robert Hamer/Charles Crichton, 1945). Miranda, then, is a post-war experiment: a comedy of manners with an outright fantasy premise.

The film's chief asset is its casting, making excellent and typical use of Googie Withers, David Tomlinson and, especially, Margaret Rutherford as Miranda's devoted nurse. Miranda herself is played ideally by Glynis Johns (who had played the ghost barmaid in Halfway House), a strikingly unusual actress facially reminiscent of Gloria Grahame, with a melodic, purring voice.

The film itself seems in some ways oddly constrained. Surprisingly little goes into exploiting the story's potential for visual comedy, nor into showing how Miranda fares outside of domestic interiors. For this we get only two short sequences: one in which she gorges on a street-vendor's entire stock of cockles, and the great scene in which she catches a fish in her mouth during feeding time at the zoo. This curious reticence may in part have been dictated by the limiting nature of Johns' prosthetics, though what little we see of her tail (made by Dunlop, according the credits) looks entirely convincing.

Further, like Dead of Night (which had also starred Googie Withers) there is little real sense of period, and post-war austerity is no more to be glimpsed or inferred than the war itself was in the 1945 film. The characters are all riverside apartment dwellers with dual incomes, for whom Miranda's eccentricity is in part attributable to her lowly social status (and presumably Cornishness).

Nonetheless, the film retains considerable charm as well as novelty, and was successful enough to prompt a sequel, Mad About Men (1954). Generally less well received - of the original cast, only Johns and Rutherford returned - it boasted attractive Technicolor photography, seen to best effect in some eerily lit undersea cave sequences.

Matthew Coniam

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Video Clips
1. Miranda's cave (1:14)
2. Nurse Carey (6:34)
3. At the zoo (1:02)
4. Claire's discovery (2:53)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Annakin, Ken (1914-2009)
Box, Betty (1915-1999)
Denham, Maurice (1909-2002)
Johns, Glynis (1923-)
Rutherford, Margaret (1892-1972)
Tomlinson, David (1917-2000)
Withers, Googie (1917-2011)