Sunday, August 7, 2011

From Pearl to Gladys

Following Hilary Spurling's biography of Pearl Buck, the American missionary (see 15 March post), it was only a matter of time before I (re)watched The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, the story of British missionary, Gladys Aylward, set in 1930s China. A classic Sunday afternoon film, I probably saw it 40 years ago.

Aside from the fairly implausible casting - Ingrid Bergman (tall, blonde, Swedish) plays Aylward (short, dark, cockney), the Austrian Curt Jurgens plays a Chinese colonel, and Robert Donat plays a mandarin - and the fabricated love theme with Jurgens and the fact that it was all shot in Snowdonia, it's otherwise pretty true to life. Aylward really was revered by the inhabitants of Yuncheng, and really did lead 94 children (including several she'd adopted) over the mountains to safety when the Japanese invaded.

Like Buck - and probably quite a lot of missionaries - she was more do-gooder than Christian evangelist: she became inn-keeper, teacher, doctor, advisor to the town's mandarin (who appointed her local foot-inspector) and she really did quell a riot in the local prison. And like Buck, she was unable to return to China after the War. They died within three years of each other.

Interesting footnote: one of the children in the film was Jannette Cheung who I'm working with at the moment (see 23 Nov 2010 post). She was in the the village footbinding scene and a few others. She says she has clear memories of sitting on Ingrid Bergman's lap!

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