Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Family Way ( 1966 )

The Family Way is one of those films that you have probably heard a lot about but never bothered to watch, thinking it to be just a routine British drama. But it is not routine. And it is worth watching. The plot may sound simple, certainly not something one would build a film around, and yet it is deceptively rich. This is because the characters are so well created and so very well performed. 

Playwright Bill Naughton's tale focuses on a working-class family in England. Arthur Fitton ( Hywel Bennett ) has just married his childhood sweetheart Jenny ( Hayley Mills ) and they are both looking forward to taking their honeymoon in Majorca. Unfortunately, the travel agent absconds with their money and they find themselves starting their marriage in the upstairs room of Arthur's parents' house...where the walls are "paper thin". Arthur is a sensitive young man and he finds it difficult to make love in a house where one can hear every whisper. So he sits and listens to Beethoven while Jenny patiently waits for him to come to bed. Their marriage remains unconsummated several weeks later and Arthur and Jenny begin to feel frustrated - for different reasons. Jenny feels she may not appeal to Arthur and Arthur thinks something must be wrong with himself. Their struggle with arousing sexual urgings generates much of the humor of the story but it also stirs up revelations from Arthur's parents about their own marriage which leads into the real heart of the story. 

John Mills and Marjorie Rhodes give stellar performances in the role of Arthur's parents, Ezra and Lucy. The Frittons are an everyday family from Yorkshire with Papa Fritton going off to work each morning leaving his wife to tend to the washing and cooking. Arthur works, too, but, unlike his father, he does not spend his free time in pubs drinking with his friends. He is a loner who would rather spend time at home reading and listening to his records. This clash in personalities has made Arthur feel distant from his father and closer to his mother. 

The Frittons have another son, Arthur's younger brother Geoffrey ( Murray Head in a non-singing role ). Geoffrey is not like his father either but this does not seem to bother Ezra much, perhaps because he is not the eldest. Ezra wants Arthur to be a man and his quiet interests make him worry that Lucy's gentle upbringing of the lad has made him queer. 

Surprisingly, when Jenny's parents come to the Fritton's house for a private talk "about Arthur", we discover that Ezra's friendship in his youth with an old pal named Billy may have looked strange to outsiders as well. After all, how many newlywed men take along their best friend on their honeymoon?

Lucy's recollections of her unorthodox first days of marriage bring up memories best forgotten. This old friend, Billy, who "suddenly left" one day without a word may have meant more to Ezra and Lucy than both are willing to admit. 

Ezra's final line "He looked just like Billy" ( speaking of Arthur as he was leaving ) makes one wonder whether Arthur even was Ezra's son at all, and not Billy's. Naughton's script gives the audience only vague hints about the Frittons' past, which lends the story a richness that would have been spoilt had all been revealed. 

The Family Way began as a television play ( titled Honeymoon Postponed ) by Bill Naughton for ABC's Armchair Theatre in 1961. Naughton later adapted it into a theatrical play that premiered in 1963 with Bernard Miles in the role of Ezra Fitton. John Mills happened to catch this performance and was so enthralled with the part that he went backstage hoping to discuss purchasing the film rights as a vehicle for him and his daughter. He was told that the Boulting brothers and an American had already purchased the rights. Roy Boulting had hoped to make the film with Peter Sellars in the lead but after the project was put on hold for several years, he contacted John Mills, who was tickled pink and considered it to be "the best part I've had since Hobson's Choice". 

Indeed, it was. Mills gave a wonderful performance of a lower working-class father whose thoughts and ways are quite different from his more sensitive son. Marjorie Rhodes deserves equal credit for a powerfully understated performance. Also excellent are the two young leads. Hayley Mills, whose acting always standouts, looks especially lovely in this film. Perhaps it was the glow of a young woman in love captured on film ( Mills was having a romance with The Family Way's director Ray Boulting at the time ). 

Hywel Bennett was relatively new to film but had experience in theater. The success of The Family Way led to a contract with British Lion films and two more pictures opposite Hayley Mills ( Twisted Nerve and Endless Night ). Roger Ebert called Bennett "one of England's best young actors" in 1969. Today, he is best known for his role as James Shelley in the popular sitcom Shelley ( 1979-1984 ) and for his voiceover work for the British Rail television adverts of the 1980s. Also in the cast are Liz Fraser, Avril Angers, John Comer, and Barry Foster. 

In addition to its empathetic script and fine performances, The Family Way is noted for its soundtrack, particularly its theme song by Paul McCartney. It is George Martin who really deserves credit for creating the score, having just a 15-second piano piece from Paul to work with. He turned a simple tune into a beautiful and subtle score. 

You can watch The Family Way for free on Tubi ( via Roku or online at ) or on DVD. 


  1. This sounds interesting! And I'd never heard of it before. I will definitely add it to my watchlist and check it out on Tubi. I always enjoy seeing Hayley Mills, and her father, too. In fact, my first John Mills film was Tiger Bay -- I hadn't even known when I saw it that he was Hayley's father. Looking forward to this one -- thank you!

    1. I hope you enjoy it, Karen! I liked it more than I had expected to. Be sure to share your thoughts after you have seen it. :-)