Oscar-winning actor John Mills, who was as well known for being the patriarch of a show business family as for his roles as archetypal Englishmen, died Saturday in London after a brief illness, the Associated Press reports. He was 97. Surviving him were his wife, actress-turned-playwright Mary Hayley Bell, and his three children, actresses Juliet and Hayley Mills and screenwriter Jonathan Mills.
Mills’ career stretched for more than 70 years. During and after World War II, he seemed to specialize in morale-boosting war dramas (In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, So Well Remembered), often playing either upper-class officers who kept a stiff upper lip or gung-ho commoners-turned-enlisted men. His biggest early starring role came as Pip in David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946). A quarter-century later, Lean would direct Mills as a mute village idiot in Ryan’s Daughter (1970), for which he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Other memorable films included Scott of the Antarctic (1948), in which he starred as the South Pole explorer; War and Peace (1956); Swiss Family Robinson, in which he played the father of the marooned family; and Gandhi (1982), in which he played the viceroy of India. Vowing never to retire, Mills last appeared on screen in 2003’s Bright Young Things, where he had a walk-on as a man taking cocaine at a party.