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I have always liked Robert Donat and all the films he was in but this one is a little bit special mainly because it is a true story. It is also the last film that he made and it seems it was a struggle for him as he was ill for most of the filming and died before its release.
Gladys Aylward - played by Ingrid Bergman - was working as a domestic but always wanted to be a missionary. Having been turned down by the China Inland Mission when she applied to go to China she saved up for the fare herself and made her own way over there. The film is the story of her time over there and how she did so much to help orphans and influenced many people. The other main characters are Robert Donat as the Mandarin of Yang Cheng and Captain Lin Nan played by Curt Jurgens
The film is based in the late 1930s just before the outbreak of WWII. Gladys arrives in China after travelling on the Trans Siberian Railway, Gladys starts to work to help the children. She is helped by Jeannie Lawson (Athene Seyler) who is already working as a missionary in China and the main act of the film is her journey over the mountains with 100 Chinese orphans to save them from attacks made by the Japanese army.
The title of the film comes from the Chinese belief - in the film at least - that there are 6 things needed for a person to be happy - "wealth, longevity, good health, virtue, and a peaceful old age and death." The 6th one is personal and can differ from person to person.
The scenery is amazing and I was surprised to learn that it was all filmed in Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. The script was written by Alan Burgess who was the author of a book about Gladys's life - "The Small Woman".
Although the film was well acclaimed it only won the one Oscar and that was not entirely popular with Gladys herself. There were far too many changes for her liking.
1) Ingrid Bergman was a tall well spoken blond whereas Gladys was a small dark haired cockney.
2) She had an awful journey to get to China and yet the film shows a bit of rudeness from a few soldiers - far less then she had to contend with.
3) It is made out that all she needs to get there is a phone call from someone who has a friend and everything is arranged. There is no mention of how she struggles to save for her fare and make her own way there.
4 Names were changed - some place names may have been hard for a Western audience to understand but even her adoptive children had their names altered.
5) Her relationship with Captain Lin Nan was the most annoying for her as she claimed never to have kissed a man led alone followed him around.
6) She also felt it was an insult to have him as half European - was it so hard to understand that a Chinese officer could be kind and gentle?
The DVD was released in 2005 and runs for 158 minutes.
I particularly liked the way that The Manderin seemed to change his mind about Gladys and that their relationship seemed to let them see each others culture and reasons for feeling the way that they did.
This is a film that I don't watch as often as I should and having reviewed it I will watch it again in the next few days.