MoM’s Have You Heard Of?… feature returns and this week we take a look at Take A Girl Like You (1970) starring Hayley Mills and Oliver Reed.
Throughout the 60s Hayley Mills was one of the most famous child actresses of the era, starring in films like Pollyanna (1960), Whistle Down The Wind (1961), The Parent Trap (1961), Summer Magic and That Darn Cat! (both 1965). Many actresses fail to make the transition from child actress to adult performer, but Mills showed she could still captivate audiences in her grown-up leading roles. A number of films gave her the chance to show her range as an adult actress, including The Family Way (1966), Twisted Nerve (1968) and Deadly Strangers (1975).
In this review I take a look at a somewhat overlooked Hayley Mills film, Jonathon Miller’s Take A Girl Like You (1970), based on Kingley Amis’s 1960 novel of the same name.
Jenny (Hayley Mills) is a pretty newly qualified teacher who rents a room in a house owned by Dick (John Bird) and Martha Thompson (Sheila Hancock). One evening, she meets Patrick (Oliver Reed), a smooth-talking ‘bit-of-a-lad’ type who has a certain way with the ladies. Patrick woos Jenny and she seems to respond with interest, but when trying to take things to the next level Patrick is surprised to find her reluctant and ill-at-ease. He asks her, incredulously, if she is still a virgin… and she confesses that she is.
The rest of the film charts the ups-and-downs of their relationship, as Patrick struggles to come to terms with Jenny’s moral strength; meanwhile she fights off the attention of various men and wonders when, and with whom, it will be the right time to surrender her virginity.
Anyone who has heard of Mills usually pictures her as a very ‘innocent ‘actress, so she’s the perfect choice to star opposite Oliver Reed in this film about innocence vs sexual awareness. Reed is, after all, fondly remembered as one of the great hellraisers of cinema (along with guys like Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton and Robert Shaw). With Mills playing the virginal school teacher, and Reed cast as the roguish man desperate to bed her, they both trade on their reputations to wonderful effect. The growing relationship between Mills and Reed throughout the film is fascinating – she constantly struggles to stay true to her beliefs on sexuality; while he desperately plots to tempt her into submission. Many scenes have the audience laughing out loud, but there’s a degree of seriousness too. He remains lovably mischievous throughout and, although clearly a womaniser with very loose morals, he is still able to gain a degree of sympathy from viewers.
The supporting cast members also put in agreeable performances, with John Bird and Shelia Hancock particularly amusing as Jenny’s landlords, Dick and Martha Thompson. Dick is a dirty old man who likes to flirt shamelessly and, when drunk, has slightly wandering hands. He is delusional, thinking he’s a man women desire, but ultimately he’s harmless enough. Martha, on the other hand, is tired of her life and wants something more than merely looking after lodgers and tolerating her useless husband. She wants to feel excitement and love.. something the audience picks up on every time she looks at Patrick. Noel Harrison, son of the celebrated actor Rex, is also on top form as playboy Julian Ormerod.
Director Jonathon Miller is mostly known for his work in television, so it’s a refreshing surprise to find him working so assuredly on this cinematic release. Given the respectable job Miller does in directing this movie, it’s surprising that he didn’t go on to direct more feature films, instead returning to directing television programmes and TV movies.
At the time the film was made, the wider attitude towards sex and promiscuity was changing. Although many women were still choosing to stay chaste until their wedding night, for others this was fast becoming an attitude of the past with more and more people choosing to have sex out of marriage. Hence, the notion that this beautiful young school teacher is still a virgin is portrayed as something out of the ordinary in the context of the film. The film takes a refreshing and fun approach to a subject which could easily have gone down a more lewd and exploitative road. Miller is shrewder than that, and gives us a romantic comedy with elements of drama thrown into the mix. Sex is one of the themes but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of the film.
In recent years the story has been adapted once again, this time for the small screen by the BBC. The mini-series starred Sienna Guillory in the role of Jenny, Rupert Graves as Patrick an Hugh Bonneville as Julian Ormerod. It is more adult in tone with some nudity and bad language thrown into the mix, things this film chooses to avoid overall. The modern TV adaptation gets equally good reviews on the Imdb as the 1970 version, and is also worth watching if you get the chance.
Take A Girl Like You is a light-hearted, fun look at the subject of losing one’s virginity. It’s well acted and full of comedic moments which are bound to put a smile on your face. For fans of Mills and Reed, it’s certainly one to add to the ‘must see’ list.
MoM Rating: 7/10