A town’s new vicar encourages the naive application of unlimited charity within his flock—with disastrous results. [ Heavens Above! credits: Dir: John & Roy Boulting/ Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Isabel Jeans/ 105 min/ Comedy/ Britain/ Anti-Redistribution]
“One of the most amusing British comedies of the 1960s. The story is clever and insightful, and Peter Sellers is hilarious in the leading role.”
The well-meaning vicar portrayed here is more consistent and honest than the cynical people around him and is therefore a sympathetic character. But his insistence that people practice literally what the Bible preaches with respect to charity exposes the limits of charity as a virtue.
It all begins with a bureaucratic foul-up in which this vicar, something of a religious radical, is mistakenly appointed to a high office in a staid British town. The people in this town, like many Christians, pay lip service to religion but don’t really take it to heart. He sets out to change that attitude, by example and by hard preaching.
His biggest success is the effect he has on a rich, simple-minded dowager who owns a large part of the town’s industry. He persuades her to give away her vast wealth in order to prepare herself for the kingdom of heaven, as indeed the Bible instructs. Once convinced that this is the right course, she immediately liquidates her holdings and uses the proceeds to distribute free food and other goods.
Unfortunately, the availability of all this largesse undermines the retailers and producers who ordinarily provide for the needs of the town, throwing these tradesmen and their employees onto the dole. At the same time, her boundless generosity attracts loafers from around the country. The ultimate results of her and the vicar’s actions are unemployment, foreclosures, strikes, riots, corruption, and general ill will between people.
The problem, of course, is that charity applied to unknown hundreds regardless of actual need is akin to socialism. It stimulates consumption, discourages production, and so leads inevitably to economic ruin.
Despite such a serious theme, Heavens Above! is actually one of the most amusing British comedies of the 1960s. The story is clever and insightful, and Peter Sellers is hilarious in the leading role.