Have you ever watched a movie that took you by surprise? Perhaps, it turned your expectations on end? Or maybe, you went in knowing nothing about the film and found yourself responding to it rather strongly? Such was the case for me with Nurse on Wheels, a British comedy starring Juliet Mills, daughter of John Mills and sister to Hayley.
I grew up with the Disney films of Hayley Mills and hold very fond memories of them. It was for this reason alone that I took a chance when I saw Nurse on Wheels show up in the TCM schedule recently. I had never seen Juliet Mills in a film before and knew absolutely nothing about Nurse on Wheels. I expected I might like it, but didn’t guess that it would be my favorite film discovery of the year.
Mills plays Joanna Jones, a young woman who is assigned as the District Nurse of a small English village. Her arrival is not met with much enthusiasm by the townsfolk who revered their long serving, former District Nurse. With little fanfare, she begins her service, determined to prove her worth. She has an unreliable ally in her scatterbrained mother Mrs. Jones (Esma Cannon) who serves as her housekeeper and secretary. Joanna also attracts the attention of the district’s most eligible bachelor Henry Edwards (Ronald Lewis). As she goes about her rounds she first meets and slowly begins to win over the village’s residents.
I fell, and fell hard for this sweetly charming and idyllic film. With it’s simple story line of normal people and daily life within a British village, it made me want to curl up with a blanket and a cuppa.
A range of eccentric and quirky residents add humor and interest to the movie. There is of course, Joanna’s flibbertigibbet mother. Abel Worthy is the somewhat odd owner of the general store who is a bit of a busybody. Then there is the overly flirty George Judd who rather harmlessly straddles the boundaries of inappropriate behavior towards women.
We also have the grieving widowed Vicar and his daughter Deborah Walcott who has a secret crush on the town doctor. And of course Dr. Golfrey is totally oblivious to her interest, but desperately in need of a secretary. All of these roles are played to perfection by well known names in British cinema including Noel Purcell, Norman Rossington, Raymond Hutley, Joan Sims and Ronald Howard.
Though several of these come close to stealing the show, none can eclipse Juliet Mills in the starring role. As much as I’ve always loved Hayley Mills, her older sister is strikingly pretty in her own right. She comes across as a more serious actress and much less “cutesy” on the screen. Her Joanna is kind but firm, determined and undeterred. I love how human she is. Often when watching movies, the characters are stereotypical, but Mills’ Joanna is a woman I could imagine really exists.
Her interactions with the various villagers show different aspects of her character. With her mom, she is patient even when exasperated. When dealing with George Judd who’s behavior borders on harrassment, she sets clear boundaries without taking offense. With her patients who resist her treatments she is understanding but crafty in overcoming their resistance.
It is Joanna’s relationship with Henry Edwards which is the most entertaining. He is a bit of an old school male, authoritative, but dazzled by the newest village import. It is clear they care about each other, but Joanna refuses to be dominated. Instead, she is sassy and determined when Henry attempts to force her to his will. And ultimately she is willing to sacrifice the relationship to maintain her freedom when he becomes too overbearing.
Their scenes when he tries to teach Johanna, who is a notoriously bad motorist, how to drive are especially funny! I’ve seen the same situation play out many times when driving with couples; the passenger seat driver giving directions while the actual driver yells back in frustration. The funny thing is Joanna desperately needs the instruction and it is a wonder, that she is allowed behind the wheel of a car.
There is a little side story of a young itinerant couple which significantly impacts Joanna and Henry’s relationship as well as the whole town. Broke, with nowhere to go and a baby on the way, they park their trailer on Henry’s land. He insists the squatters leave and Joanna compassionately argues they stay. Joanna is assisted in her efforts by several kindhearted village residents who secretly provide support to the couple. Although, this isn’t a Christmas film, this story line reminds me very much of that old holiday chestnut about “engaging in a conspiracy of love.”
Nurse on Wheels is a movie I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend if you can find it. I have determined to save it a special place on my DVR for as long as possible. It is simply a joy to watch. We need more entertainment like this.
This is my entry for The Unexpected Blogathon hosted by Rebecca over at Taking Up Room. I encourage you to stop by her site and check out the other entries.