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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 novel of the same name by the Sunday Times journalist James Fox (originally researched with Cyril Connolly for an article in December 1969),[3] it dramatizes 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
Produced bySimon Perry
Screenplay byMichael Radford
Jonathan Gems
Based onWhite Mischief
by James Fox
Music byGeorge Fenton
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byTom Priestley
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
1987 (United Kingdom), 22 April 1988 (United States)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£8 million[1]
Box office$3,107,551 (US)
£1,532,903 (UK)[2]



With much of the rest of the world at war, a number of bored British aristocrats live dissolute and hedonistic lives in a region of the Kenya Colony known as Happy Valley, drinking, drugging 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. Diana 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 also include the drug-addicted American heiress Alice de Janze 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 Delves Broughton 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 to death in his car not far from the home of Delves Broughton who is soon charged with Errol's 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 Janze is dying of a drug overdose, 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 Janze's grave.



Obtaining funding for the film was difficult and only achieved when David Puttnam became head of Columbia and agreed to provide the balance.[1] The film made a loss during its theatrical release.[2]

Historical accuracyEdit

De Janzé actually shot herself on 30 September 1941,[4] 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.[5]


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".[6]

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.


  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 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.
  3. ^ White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, James Fox, Vintage Books, 1998, ISBN 0-394-75687-8
  4. ^ "An Ex-Countess Shot Found Dead", The New York Times, 1 October 1941.
  5. ^ Inquest on Sir Jock Delves Broughton, The Times, 15 December 1942.
  6. ^ Barrow, Greg. "South African woman to hang." BBC. Tuesday, 30 January 2001. Retrieved on 27 March 2013.

External linksEdit