The Garlands Christine (Phyllis Calvert) and Harry (Terence Morgan) are deeply in love, their married life enhanced by the birth of daughter Mandy (Mandy Miller after the early scenes). After a while they realise that their little girl may not be responding to sound, the doctor agrees that Mandy has a congenital condition and as such, “She would never be able to imagine what sound would be like.” Harry’s parents Mr. Garland (Godfrey Tearle) and Mrs. Garland (Marjorie Fielding) are keen to keep Mandy from exposure to danger so that, when Christine suggests that perhaps they should give a school for the deaf a chance to help her daughter, they are not too pleased, a view reinforced by Harry’s own brief visit to the educational establishment. Christine insists that they should try, noting that Harry “ didn’t give the place a chance.” So she leaves the family home and Mandy enrols at Bishop David School for the Deaf. She is having to catch up with the other children but she is beginning to fit in and progress, learning to lip read and Christine is hopeful that she will eventually be able to make sounds other than her high pitched screams of anger and frustration. The headmaster Dick Searle (Jack Hawkins) has unconventional ways of teaching the pupils but the results are clear even if some of the parents and the governors do not see eye to eye with him. Internal squabblings and potential disciplinary action await him, Christine’s marriage is in a state of turmoil and all manner of plans are afoot to undermine the achievement of the school, its teachers and its pupils. Especially six year old Mandy who may, amidst the anxiety and politics, actually be receiving the aid she needs after extra coaching sessions, furthering her lip-reading skills and – just perhaps – the possibility that she might learn to speak.
Mandy is an enthralling drama about family issues and school politics. It is never patronising except when it needs to delineate characters’ own ignorance and inhibitions. Beautifully directed and cast (seven year old Mandy Miller’s performance is exemplary) with Alexander Mackendrick mixing stylistic filming with social realism and angular cuts from multiple angles to enhance the viewer’s understanding of Mandy’s point of view. This is also a drama about contemporary perceptions of disability, not just in the wider world (there is a scene where Mandy chases after her dog and into the road, nearly being run over by a lorry she cannot hear, and the driver’s criticism of her also unheard) but even within the family where their misconceptions about her condition couple with expectations of what is the best thing to do for lead to quite abrasive confrontations – “What we’re doing to Mandy is criminal.” Christine’s frustration that keeping Mandy locked up at the in-laws’ home likens Mrs. Garland to a “Spinster playing with her lapdog”. This creates palpable tension within the family unit, all parties genuinely believing that they are doing the right thing for Mandy. The scenes filmed at the school for the deaf provide an insight into how deaf children learn to lip-read and to speak as well as how they learn to interact with each other and those in the wider world.
The extras include an interview with Mandy Miller as she recalls her roles with Ealing through playing alongside Alec Guiness in Man With The White Suit (“I was fed toffees”) to her starring titular role in Mandy, reflecting on how as a seven year old she had to scream (aided by direction so that she really did) and even being recognised in the streets. There is also an interesting BBC3 Radio analysis of the film and some behind the scenes photography. Mandy is, 65 years on, as beautifully constructed and moving as it was when originally released, a family drama in a social context that raises issues in such a human manner as to be totally gripping.
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