White Mischief (film)

White Mischief is a 1987 British film directed by Michael Radford and starring Greta Scacchi, Charles Dance, Joss Ackland, Sarah Miles, Geraldine Chaplin, Ray McAnally, Murray Head, John Hurt, and Trevor Howard. Based on the 1982 book of the same name by the Sunday Times journalist James Fox (originally researched with Cyril Connolly for an article in December 1969),[5] it dramatises the events of the Happy Valley murder case in Kenya in 1941, when Sir Henry "Jock" Delves Broughton was tried for the murder of Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll.

White Mischief
White Mischief.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Radford
Screenplay byMichael Radford
Jonathan Gems
Based onWhite Mischief
by James Fox
Produced bySimon Perry
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byTom Priestley
Music byGeorge Fenton
Distributed byColumbia-Cannon-Warner Distributors
Release date
1987 (United Kingdom)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£8 million[1] or $8.5 million[2]
Box office£1,532,903 (UK)[3][4]


With much of the rest of the world at war, a number of bored British aristocrats lead dissolute and hedonistic lives in a region of the Kenya Colony known as Happy Valley, drinking, taking drugs and indulging in decadent sexual affairs to pass the time.

On 24 January 1941 Josslyn Hay, the philandering Earl of Erroll, is found dead in his car in a remote location. The Earl has a noble pedigree but a somewhat sordid past and a well-deserved reputation for having affairs with married women.

Diana Delves Broughton is one such woman. She is the beautiful wife of Sir John Henry Delves Broughton, known to most as "Jock," a man 30 years her senior. She has a pre-nuptial understanding with her husband that, should either of them fall in love with someone else, the other will do nothing to impede the romance.

Diana has indeed succumbed to the charms of the roguish Earl of Erroll, whose other lovers include the drug-addicted American heiress Alice de Janzé and the somewhat more reserved Nina Soames. The Earl is more serious about this affair than any of his earlier dalliances, and wants Diana to marry him. She is reluctant to leave what she thinks is the financial security of her marriage to formalise her relationship with Erroll (who has no funds or prospects), unaware that her husband is deep in debt. Privately humiliated but appearing to honour their agreement, Delves Broughton publicly toasts the couple's affair at the club in Nairobi, asking Erroll to bring Diana home at a specified time. Delves Broughton appears to be extremely intoxicated for the rest of the evening; once he is alone it is clear he was feigning drunkenness. After dropping off Diana, Erroll is shot dead in his car near the home of Delves Broughton, who is soon charged with the murder.

Diana is distraught over losing her lover, as is Alice, who openly masturbates next to his corpse at the mortuary. A local plantation owner, Gilbert Colvile, whose only friend is Delves Broughton, quietly offers Diana advice and solace and ultimately shocks her by proposing marriage.

Delves Broughton stands trial. There are no witnesses to the crime and the physical evidence that appears incriminating is also circumstantial. He obviously had the motive and means, but is found innocent, and the scandal comes to an end. De Janzé ultimately kills herself, and Diana discovers further evidence that implicates her husband in her lover's death. After menacing her with a shotgun, Broughton shoots himself in front of her. The film ends with a fleeing, bloodstained Diana discovering the remaining Happy Valley set partying around de Janzé's grave.


Richard Attenborough was offered the lead but turned it down because he wanted to focus on his direction.[6]


In 1969 James Fox and Cyril Connolly began investigating the case for an article in The Sunday Times called "Christmas at Karen". When Connolly died in 1974 Fox inherited his notes and theories, and returned to Kenya to undertake further research. The result was the book White Mischief, published in 1982.[7][2] The title came from Black Mischief, Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel set in the mythical African kingdom of Azania. The New York Times called it "a fascinating book."[8] The Boston Globe said "had ‘White Mischief’ been a work of fiction it would have required the collaboration of Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse."[9] While researching the book Fox also collected information about Beryl Markham, which was turned into the film A Shadow on the Sun.[10]

Film rights were optioned by Michael White, a friend of Fox's, while the book was being written.[11]

The film was directed by Michael Radford, who co-wrote the script with British playwright Jonathan Gems, who had never worked on a film before. "Films of Africa should be made by Africans," said Radford. "This is a film of melancholy about people who have everything and yet have nothing. It's about people who want to possess what they can't possess."[12]

Obtaining funding for the film proved difficult. Money came from a chain of Canadian cinemas, Cineplex Odeon, Goldcrest Films and Nelson Entertainment. The balance came from Columbia Pictures, then under David Puttnam as head of production.[1]

Filming took place from February to May 1987 at Shepperton Studios and on location in Kenya.[13] Wrotham Park was used as Doddington Hall, the home of Delves Broughton.

Historical accuracyEdit

De Janzé actually shot herself on 30 September 1941,[14] while Delves Broughton eventually returned to England and committed suicide by morphine overdose in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool in December 1942, over a year later.[15]

"There is a difference between fact and truth," said producer Simon Perry. "You can be truthful without being factual. It's inevitable there will be people who think Kenya was and still is a paradise of remittance men and black sheep of aristocratic families. Kenya was an exaggerated microcosm of society in Britain at that time, painted in primary colours with characters larger than life."[12]

Sir Jock Broughton's son, Sir Evelyn, complained that the film depicted his father as a murderer. He said his father was too drunk that night to have committed the crime and that Diana was more likely to have done it.[16]

Diana Broughton died in 1987.[17]


Box officeEdit

The film made a loss during its theatrical release.[3] However, Jake Eberts[18] reported that Goldcrest Films invested £1,300,000 in the film, and received £1,633,000, earning them a profit of £333,000.[19]

Fox said he was "ambivalent" about the movie, based on his book.[20]


In 1996, Mariette Bosch murdered Ria Wolmerans in Botswana. Both women were white South Africans. The case was referred to as "Botswana's white mischief".[21]

See alsoEdit

  • The Happy Valley, a BBC television drama also dealing with the murder, was first aired on 6 September 1987, several months before White Mischief was released.[22]


  1. ^ a b Power, James. "Requiem for a shooting party." Sunday Times [London, England] 12 Apr. 1987: 51. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Shot in Kenya". Pym, John. Sight & Sound; London Vol. 56, Iss. 3, (Summer 1987): 176.
  3. ^ a b Olins, Rufus. "Mr Fixit of the British Screen." Sunday Times [London, England] 24 Sept. 1995: 9[S]. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.
  4. ^ "Back to the Future: The Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s - An Information Briefing" (PDF). British Film Institute. 2005. p. 30.
  5. ^ White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, James Fox, Vintage Books, 1998, ISBN 0-394-75687-8
  6. ^ "ATTENBOROUGH HOPES HIS MOVIE IS POLITICAL". Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times, 25 Oct 1987: K22.
  7. ^ "Kenya Brits". Brittain, Victoria. The Guardian, 18 Nov 1982: 14.
  8. ^ "Books of The Times: WHITE MISCHIEF. The Murder of Lord Erroll. A True Story of Aristocracy, Alcohol and Adultery". By Michiko Kakutani. The New York Times, 8 Mar 1983: C14.
  9. ^ "REVIEW / BOOK; VEDDY BRITISH AND VEDDY TRUE". Bob MacDonald, Globe Staff. The Boston Globe, 19 Apr 1983: 1.
  10. ^ Onstad, Eric (17 March 1988). "Flier's personal life probed in TV film". The Globe and Mail (C.4. ed.).
  11. ^ "A WEST END WINNER: MICHAEL MURPHY met the successful impresario MICHAEL WHITE, an American with a string of theatrical hits behind him, in London". Murphy, Michael. The Irish Times, 20 Dec 1984: 10.
  12. ^ a b "'WHITE MISCHIEF': In Kenya, a film crew stirs dark memories". Fitzgerald, Mary Anne. The Christian Science Monitor, 25 May 1987.
  13. ^ "Win some, lose some". Vidal, John. The Guardian, 2 May 1987: 12.
  14. ^ "An Ex-Countess Shot Found Dead", The New York Times, 1 October 1941.
  15. ^ Inquest on Sir Jock Delves Broughton, The Times, 15 December 1942.
  16. ^ Son attacks White Mischief film which calls his father murderer Staff Reporter. The Guardian 16 Feb 1988: 4.
  17. ^ "Last Clue to 1941 Kenya Murder Dies With Aristocrat": [Bulldog Edition]. Faul, Michelle. Los Angeles Times, 20 Sep 1987: 9.
  18. ^ "Collections Search | BFI | British Film Institute (White Mischief (Original))". Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  19. ^ Eberts, Jake; Illott, Terry (1990). My indecision is final. Faber and Faber. p. 657.
  20. ^ On the spoor of scandal: James Fox, whose book is the basis of the film, talks to Nicholas de Jongh Fox, James. The Guardian 4 Feb 1988: 15.
  21. ^ Barrow, Greg. "South African woman to hang." BBC. Tuesday, 30 January 2001. Retrieved on 27 March 2013.
  22. ^ "Dressed to think". Banks-Smith, Nancy. The Guardian, 7 Sep 1987: 10.

External linksEdit