Heavens Above (1963)

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Released 9-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1963
Running Time 113:17
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:19) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By John Boulting
Roy Boulting
British Lion Films
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Peter Sellers
Cecil Parker
Isabel Jeans
Ian Carmichael
Bernard Miles
Brock Peters
Eric Sykes
Irene Handl
Miriam Karlin
Joan Miller
Miles Malleson
Eric Barker
William Hartnell
Case ?
RPI $14.95 Music Richard Rodney Bennett

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, heavy
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Fans of the TV series Yes, Prime Minister may recall the episode in which Hacker is confronted with the task of recommending a clergyman for the position of bishop of the Church of England. Hacker is scandalised to discover that the upper ranks of the Church of England are much more about politics than they are about religion. One wonders if the authors of that episode were inspired by this film.

    The English village of Orbiston Pava (mellifluously introduced to us before the opening credits by one of Peter Seller's "announcer voices") needs a new vicar. Archdeacon Aspinall (Cecil Parker) discusses the candidates with the local benefactor, Lady Despard (Isabel Jeans). He advocates a young curate, the Reverend John Smallwood (a young Ian Carmichael), who comes from a fine family. She agrees, but there's a mix-up at the bishop's office, and a very different Reverend John Smallwood (Peter Sellers, playing the role soft-spoken and completely straight) is appointed (I liked the description of this as a "clerical error"). Yes, horror of horrors, they've appointed a religious man to the post of vicar!

    The gentry of Orbiston Pava are more than a little shocked with their new vicar. He goes against centuries of gentile prejudice, and appoints his own warden, and chooses him on the basis of religious devotion — to make matters worse, the new warden is the local garbageman (we'll gloss over the fact that he is black — that is apparently less disturbing).

    Orbiston Pava's main source of employment is the factory which manufactures Tranquilax — a patent medicine incorporating a tranquiliser, a stimulant, and a laxative (there's a frightening combination!). This is the source of the Despard's income, and is currently run by Lady Despard's son. The executives want to expand the factory, and they manage to evict a large family from the adjoining field — the family head, Harry Smith (Eric Sykes), explains bluntly to the "man from the council" that he could not get a job that pays as well as the various pensions and allowances they receive (yup, an archetypal dole bludger, and not exactly honest). He and his extended family (including the evergreen Irene Handl, Miriam Karlin, and over a dozen children) plead poverty and the somewhat gullible but eternally charitable Reverend Smallwood takes them in, thereby turning the vicarage into an instant slum.

    Smallwood tries to build up his congregation by visiting the people around the village, but finds it hard going until he hits upon a scheme to help the needy — he doesn't anticipate how badly it will go wrong, but he doesn't allow for greed.

    This satire on class differences and the church in England is quite entertaining, and even more so at such a distance in time. If you have seen a variety of British films and TV series from the 1960s and 1970s, you're likely to recognise a great many of the actors, like Miles Malleson, Roy Kinnear, Joan Hickson, Kenneth Griffith, and even a young Derek Nimmo (amusing, given his later starring role in All Gas and Gaiters). It's interesting to see William Hartnell (the first Dr Who) as Major Fowler, the previous warden, and even Ed Devereaux (yes, from Skippy) in a bit part.

    All up, this film is fun, one of those minor gems that DVD has managed to rescue from obscurity. Don't expect too much, and you'll likely enjoy it.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. That means slim black bars down either side, but you may not see much of them because of overscan in your display device.

    The picture is sharp and clear, with minimal film grain. Shadow detail is limited, but that's to be expected in a black-and-white film from the early 1960s. There is no low-level noise.

    If you look at the data side of the DVD you'll see the word Technicolor at the inner rim, signifying the manufacturer of this disc. This is somewhat ironic, given that this film isn't colour: it's black-and-white, or, more accurately, monochrome, because this transfer shows an excellent ranges of tones from good solid blacks through to nice clear whites.

    There are some film artefacts, but they are extraordinarily few for a film over 40 years old. This film has been very well cared for, or beautifully restored.

    There is some mild aliasing, but it is surprisingly light. There's some obvious moiré, particularly on some of the country fabrics (have a look at 79:13 as perhaps the worst example). There's no significant shimmer. There are no other MPEG artefacts.

    There are no subtitles, unfortunately, so hearing-impaired viewers miss out.

    The disc is single-sided and dual-layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change falls at 67:19, and is neatly concealed in a black frame between scenes.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The soundtrack is only provided in English. It is Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224kbps, but it is simple mono presented on two tracks.

    The dialogue is clear, and easy enough to understand, even with the variety of accents presented (including the odd one Peter Sellers manifests). There are no obvious audio sync problems.

    Richard Rodney Bennett is credited with the original music, and it is quite a decent effort, enhancing the on-screen action. Quite a bit of it sounds awfully familiar, but that doesn't do any harm.

    The surrounds and subwoofer are completely unused by this soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras at all.


    The menu is static and silent. The only two items on it are a command to play the movie, or scene selection.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 disc was released at the beginning of 2003. We get it a year later. Other than the release date (and NTSC vs PAL) there is no difference between the discs.

    You can choose either version with confidence.


    An entertaining film, given a decent, albeit bare-bones, presentation on DVD.

    The video quality is quite good.

    The audio quality is good.

    The extras are nowhere to be found.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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