special-event-the-horses-mouth-dec-4thBased on the novel by Joyce Cary, The Horse’s Mouth is a quintessentially British comedy about the career of a rather unreliable artist. It was Alec Guinness’s only screenplay and he stars in it as Gully Jimson, who having been released from a stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, must find a way to raise some funds to pay off his debtors. But how will he find artistic outlet for his inspiration? Who will trust in his genius? (Cert PG)
Dir: Ronald Neame 92 mins UK 1958
We welcome back Prof. Ian Christie of Birkbeck College to present this film.

Programme Notes

The Horse’s Mouth
Britain 1958 97mins Cert PG

Based on the novel by Joyce Cary (the author of Mister Johnson) Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia,1962; The Bridge on the River Kwai,1957; The Ladykillers, 1955) plays an artist named Gulley Simpson who struggles to find the ideal wall for his painting. Luckily for him, he finds out that Sir William and Lady Beeder (played by Robert Coote and Veronica Turleigh), are about to go on holiday. Will they be pleased with his commissioned mural or does he have to find another wall on which to create his next masterpiece?

The Horse’s Mouth is the only screenplay written by Alec Guinness throughout his entire career as a prolific actor in both film and television. He received an Oscar nomination for his script in 1959, as well as a BAFTA nomination. He won the Volpi Cup at the 1958 Venice Film Festival for his performance in the film, and for which its director, Ronald Neame (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1969), was nominated for The Golden Lion award.


“Quite probably the best film ever made about a painter” Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress

“This is an actor’s film, not cinema” Jonas Mikas, The Village Voice, Dec 31st 1958

Gulley Jimson – Alec Guinness
Dee Coker – Kay Walsh
Sara Monday – Renee Houston
Nosey – Mike Morgan
Sir William Beeder – Robert Coote
Lady Beeder – Veronica Turleigh

Director – Ronald Neame
Producers – John Bryan, Ronald Neame
Screenplay – Alec Guinness
Cinematography – Arthur Ibbetson
Original music – Kenneth Jones


“A lovely, amazing film”

“Ahead of its time! Very watchable today so, when first released, it must have seemed strange and non-populist.”

“Perhaps more actors should make films!”

“Good fun!”

“This most unusual story turned into a film that conveyed great warmth and drew you willingly into the life of a minor crook.”

“An interesting and somewhat flawed film but I’m very pleased to have seen it. Ian Christie’s commentary was extremely helpful in showing some of its complexities.”

“A slightly puzzling production. Beautifully played, with scenes that constituted a magnificent archive of London and London life in the 1950s – but what was Guinness trying to achieve?”

“A curious zigzag; rags to riches and back again; graffiti art to the Tate and back again. A vivid portrayal of people of different classes. I liked the final wall creation, the reaction to its destruction and the final drift downstream.”

“It needed Alec Guinness to make the film work.”

“Absolutely weird but a stunning performance from Guinness. Whimsical and charming.”

“The music and Guinness’ performance, with strong support from Kay Walsh, lifted this from mediocre to good.”

“Great performance (from AG), funny scenes: pity that the story was not engaging.”

“A very good example of a comedy in which the laughter came from the reactions to the gags. Not a masterpiece but worth seeing now and again.”

“Of its time – enjoyable as a period piece.”

“Interesting – lots in it but didn’t quite work as a whole.”

“Mixed feelings about this film. Found the comedy better than expected, with strong stereotypes but the artist/Guinness did not take his art or himself seriously.”

“Didn’t quite make it. Reminded me of Tony Hancock’s ‘Punch and Judy Man’ and his other film featuring artists. Nevertheless, a collector’s piece!”

“Justifiably neglected. The best bit was the magic beer mug!”


A:9, B:14, C:6, D:3, E:0 to give 73%