The Admirable Chrichton 1956

The Admirable Crichton ( 1957 )

Lewis Gilbert’s version of The Admirable Crichton is a handsome adaptation of one of J.M Barrie’s most popular plays which, although often referred to as a “satire”, was more than likely Barrie’s way of disguising his gentle assault on the British class system. It’s also a rather unabashed look at the utter helplessness the uppercrust have when they are thrust in a commonplace situation, or in this case, an un-commonplace situation. 

Lord Loam ( Cecil Parker ) is the father of three young women, each about to be betrothed. Loam is a just man – one of those easily swayed lords of the English realm. He fancies that he desires equality as much as the average working class gent…and he does, to a point. In fact, it is his embarrassing “servant’s tea party” that leads him to embark on a yachting voyage to the South Seas, along with his daughters, their suitors and the ship’s staff. 

When a spot of inclement weather frightens the crew into bailing, the passengers are left floating in a lifeboat in the mid-Pacific to fend for themselves. Thankfully, their unflappable manservant Crichton ( Kenneth More ) and a servant girl ( Diane Cilento ) are dunked overboard with them….and it is Crichton who turns out to be their savior with his resourcefulness when they are marooned on a deserted island. As the toffs accustom themselves to island life they find a new social order emerging. The tables are reversed as Crichton becomes the lord of the land and they the servants; but when a passing ship comes to their rescue, Crichton must decide if they are to remain islanders or each return to their previous status. 


The Admirable Crichton, released as Paradise Lagoon stateside, was the first color adaptation of Barrie’s beloved 1902 play, but not the first filming. There was G.B Samuelson’s 1918 silent version, Cecil B.DeMille’s lengthy 1919 retelling ( Male and Female starring Gloria Swanson ) and Paramount’s Yankeefied take on the story, We’re Not Dressing, released in 1934 and starring Bing Crosby and Miriam Hopkins. 

Lewis Gilbert displays a masterful hand at putting the shipwreck satire to film and Wilkie Cooper obviously delighted in photographing the island paradise, which the play could only suggest. His sumptuous Technicolor photography gave reason enough for Brits to leave their flats to see the film. 

The rich blue waters of Bermuda subbed for the unnamed South Seas island and a couple of well-placed artificial palms added to its appeal. The island sets are quite clever and were a precursor to the familiar bamboo sets of Gilligan’s Island during the 1960s. 

It is really Britain’s everyman, Kenneth More, however, who steals the show and makes this his own film. More isn’t ones ideal image of a heartthrob that three gals would be pining over, but on a deserted island he takes on the appeal of a hero and his good points do indeed shine through. 

The always lovely Sally Ann Howes portrays the beautiful Mary, eldest daughter of the Loams, who finds she has lost her heart to her butler. Sally Ann Howes always seems to be running along a beach, but this time, alas, she is not singing “Truly Scrumptious”. Cecil Parker is marvelous as Lord Loam; Diane Cilento ( Mrs. Sean Connery at the time ) plays the cockney Eliza, not unlike Eliza Dolittle; and Martita Hunt, Jack Watling, Peter Graves, Gerald Harper, Mercy Haystead and Miranda Connell round out the cast. 

The Admirable Crichton is a very entertaining and underrated little gem that has been cast adrift by the critics. It is hard to imagine watching this story unfold within the confines of a stage. It certainly was a tale meant to be filmed in Technicolor. 


Although Barrie attempted to write a comical study of the folly of civilization’s class system, he left The Admirable Crichton without a moral. What comes through in this film however, is that the poor class have as much, if not more snobbery, than the rich. It is Mary who desires to remain on the island married to Crichton and living the blissful life of a pair of castaways but Crichton is stubbornly proud of his “position” and fails to conceive how the daughter of his employer can love him for himself when the setting is changed. In short, he behaves like an utter ass. 

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