Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Man Who Could Work Miracles, The

(vt H.G. Wells' The Man who Could Work Miracles) UK movie (1936). London/UA. Pr Alexander Korda. Dir Lothar Mendes. Spfx Ned Mann. Screenplay H G Wells. Based on "The Man who Could Work Miracles" (1898) by Wells. Starring Joan Gardner (Ada Price), Joan Hickson (Effie), Ralph Richardson (Colonel Winstanley), Ernest Thesiger (Rev. Silas Maydig), Roland Young (George McWhirter Fotheringay). 82 mins. B/w.

Three Gods observe Earth, and one determines to give humans godlike powers; caution prevails, and he experiments by endowing only meek haberdashery assistant Fotheringay, who is just entering the pub. There the conversation turns to Miracles, and Fotheringay tries to demonstrate their impossibility by instructing the oil-lamp to flip over – which, to his astonishment, it does. His playful miracle-working – he finds the one thing his powers will not do is make local belle Ada love him – is next day noted by his employer and a banker, who suggest to him a partnership to exploit this for profit. Contrariwise, local vicar Maydig sees his miracles as opening up a future of peace and plenty for all. But Fotheringay rejects all advice. He conjures up a mighty palace, summons the leaders of the world and instructs them to sort out all inequities and injustices by nightfall. Being informed the Sun is about to set, he orders the Earth to stop spinning. As lone survivor of the resultant disaster, he miraculously restores all and finally ordains he shall no longer be able to work miracles.

For a comedy, this has a surprisingly sombre script, but there are also lightly inventive moments, as when Fotheringay impatiently tells a local constable to "go to Blazes", and we follow the unfortunate indeed to Hell (later commuted to San Francisco). Young's performance exploits Wells' script to bring proceedings a not inconsiderable depth of dignity and poignancy. The movie ends with the moral dilemma unresolved: an incompetent god Fotheringay may have been, but was he any worse than the restored world-leaders will be? [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.