In a village in England two children, a boy and a girl (Brydie), are playing with the boy’s father’s gun. The gun discharges. The boy is killed, the girl is injured and never entirely recovers from the shock. Now she’s all sky west and crooked. At age 17, still in many ways a child herself, she has become a kind of leader to the village children. Obsessed with death, she soon has the children digging up the church yard to bury dead animals. After a confrontation with the father of the boy who was killed Brydie is pulled from a river by a young man, a gypsy.
Sky West and Crooked (released in the US under the inaccurate under far less interesting title Gypsy Girl) was the only film to be directed by Sir John Mills. It’s based on a story written by his wife, Mary Hayley Bell, and stars his daughter Hayley Mills.
Hayley Mills had become a major child star in Disney movies but the movies she made in Britain during the same period were far more interesting, including the excellent Whistle Down the Wind and Tiger Bay. Her performance in Sky West and Crooked is superb, sensitive without being sentimental.
Sir John Mills does a fine job as director. The marvellous supporting cast doesn’t hurt either, with standout performances by Annette Crosbie as Brydie’s mother and by Geoffrey Bayldon as a somewhat bewildered but basically kind vicar.
Sky West and Crooked is a love story and it’s a story about guilt and the need for forgiveness, and the difficulty we have in forgiving ourselves. It’s also a movie about being different and about people’s narrow-mindedness when confronted by anyone who is different.
One of the things I particularly like about this film is the way the people who are narrow-minded are not demonised; they are not portrayed as bad people. It’s their own fears and anxieties, their own shame and guilt, that cause them to behave in an intolerant manner. They’re ordinary and in many ways decent people. They’re just scared, and they’re weak people. It’s also clear that the anxiety the villagers feel about Brydie is at least partly a fear of Brydie’s awakening sexuality. It’s an anxiety that Brydie is becoming a woman but she doesn’t have the necessary array of repressions to go with it.
Sky West and Crooked is a superb example of British movie-making at its best.