The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

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The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
Original film poster
Directed byMark Robson
Screenplay byIsobel Lennart
Based onThe Small Woman
1957 biography
by Alan Burgess
Produced byBuddy Adler
CinematographyFreddie Young
Edited byErnest Walter
Music byMalcolm Arnold
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • 23 November 1958 (1958-11-23) (World Premiere, London)
  • 11 December 1958 (1958-12-11) (US)
Running time
158 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
  • English
  • Mandarin
  • Japanese
  • Russian
Box office$9 million (worldwide)[2]

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is a 1958 20th Century Fox film loosely based on the story of Gladys Aylward, a tenacious British woman who became a missionary in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Directed by Mark Robson, who received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director, the film stars Ingrid Bergman as Aylward and Curt Jürgens as her love interest, Captain Lin Nan, a Chinese Army officer with a Dutch father. Robert Donat, who played the mandarin of the town in which Aylward lived, died before the film was released. The musical score was composed and conducted by Malcolm Arnold. The cinematography was by Freddie Young.

The film was shot in Snowdonia, North Wales.[3] Most of the children in the film were ethnic Chinese children from Liverpool, home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe.[4][5]


The story begins with Aylward (Ingrid Bergman) being rejected as a potential missionary to China because of her lack of education. Dr. Robinson (Moultrie Kelsall), the senior missionary, feels sorry for her and secures her a position in the home of Sir Francis Jamison (Ronald Squire), a veteran explorer with contacts in China. Over the next few months, Aylward saves her money to purchase a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Railway, choosing the more dangerous overland route to the East because it is less expensive. Sir Francis writes to his only surviving friend in China, veteran missionary, Jeannie Lawson (Athene Seyler), who agrees to accept Gladys as a much-needed assistant at her mission in the remote county of Yangcheng. Lawson has set up an inn for muleteers, where the men can get clean food for their animals, communal beds without bugs, a good hot meal and Lawson's free stories (from the Bible). The film follows Aylward's acculturation, until tragedy strikes and Lawson dies when a balcony collapses. Captain Lin (Curt Jürgens), the commander of Yancheng's garrison, advises Aylward to go home and wishes her well as he leaves.

Aylward takes over running the inn, with the help of Yang (Peter Chong), the devoted cook, who tells the stories himself while teaching Aylward Chinese. The local Mandarin (Robert Donat) appoints Aylward as his Foot Inspector, charging her with enforcing the government's command that the ancient practice of foot binding be eradicated. She succeeds in this assignment, winning the esteem of the people and of the Mandarin as she travels regularly through the mountains, earning the nickname "She who loves" and becoming a Chinese citizen. When Lin, now a Colonel, returns to prepare the region for war with Japan, she has just stopped a prison riot. Lin goes with her on her rounds. Before he leaves, they confess their love.

In 1937, Japan invades China. An air raid shatters the city, killing Yang. The Mandarin evacuates the population to the countryside, and Li (Bert Kwouk), a former prisoner, comes to help Aylward with her five adopted children.

Later, Lin returns with the news that the war is going badly and the Mandarin must go to a safe haven. Lin wants her to go too, but she says "These are my people and I will live and die for them." They kiss. At a last meeting with his council, the Mandarin announces that he is converting to Christianity to honour Aylward and the faith that underlies her work. He says farewell: They will not meet again.

In the now-virtually deserted city, Aylward has gathered 50 children at the Inn, struggling to find food, facing a bitter winter, and not knowing where to go. Another 50 children arrive from another mission with a letter from the missionary telling her that trucks will evacuate them to a new home in the interior, but they must get to the mission at Xi'an by 12 November, in three weeks, or the trucks will leave without them. The trip should take a week by road, but Lin and his men intercept them and warn her that the Japanese control the road ahead. They must go over the mountains. She believes this is why God wanted her to come to China. Lin gives her a map. Saying, "I know you'll come back if you can," he puts a ring on her hand.

After a long, difficult journey, including a perilous river crossing, they all arrive safely (except for Li, who dies to save them from a Japanese patrol) on the day the trucks are to leave. The film culminates with the column of children, led by Aylward, marching through cheering crowds and up to the steps of the mission, singing the song "This Old Man”, which Aylward taught the children to warm themselves after the river crossing. Aylward is greeted by Dr. Robinson. She asks if he remembers her: “My name used to be Gladys Aylward.” He nods gravely and replies, “Yes, I remember. Gladys Aylward, who wasn't qualified to come to China.” He invites her to come to the children's village in the interior, but she declines: “I am going home,” she says, looking back toward the mountains. [check quotation syntax]



Shooting the film in Wales, photograph by Geoff Charles

The film was shot in CinemaScope using the DeLuxe Color process.

For the production of The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, 20th Century Fox rented space at MGM British Studios Borehamwood, where the Chinese villages were built on the backlot, with location scenes filmed in Nantmor, near Beddgelert in North Wales.

A gold-painted statue of Buddha that was used on a set for the film is now located in the Italianate village of Portmeirion, North Wales. Sean Connery was considered for the role of Captain Lin. His screen test can be seen on the DVD.

Since the film's release, the filmmakers have been criticised[citation needed] for casting Ingrid Bergman, a tall woman with a Swedish accent, as Gladys Aylward, who was in fact short and had a cockney accent. Likewise, the two male leads, British actor Robert Donat and Austrian actor Curt Jurgens were not even Chinese (though Jurgens' character is said to be half-Dutch). Singer Bill Elliott sang the hit song "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" with the Cyril Stapleton Orchestra.

Historical accuracy[edit]

The film was based on the biography The Small Woman (1957), by Alan Burgess.

Gladys Aylward (1902 – 1970) was deeply upset by the inaccuracy of the film. Although she found herself a figure of international interest thanks to the popularity of the film and television and media interviews, Aylward was mortified by her depiction in the film and the many liberties it took. The tall, Swedish Ingrid Bergman was inconsistent with Aylward's small stature, dark hair and Cockney accent. The struggles of Aylward and her family to effect her initial trip to China were skipped over in favour of the plot device of her employer "condescending to write to 'his old friend' Jeannie Lawson", and Aylward's dangerous, complicated travels across Russia and China were reduced to "a few rude soldiers", after which "Hollywood's train delivered her neatly to Tsientsin."[6]

Many characters and places were renamed in the film, including Aylward's adopted children and the inn itself, which was actually called "the Inn of the Eight Happinesses" (in reference to the Chinese belief that the number eight is auspicious).[citation needed] Aylward is given the Chinese name Jiān Ài in the film, but she was actually known as Ài Wěi Dé (a Chinese approximation of "Aylward" with the meaning "virtuous one").

It is true that in 1938 Aylward led almost 100 children 100 miles to safety from Japanese invaders. But real life was very different from the film. At the end of the journey, "the brown-eyed, modest missionary was virtually unconscious and delirious with typhus and fever."[7]

Captain Lin Nan was portrayed as half-European, a change which Aylward found insulting to his Chinese lineage. She also resented the Hollywood-embellished love scenes in the film; not only had she never kissed any man, but the film's ending portrayed her character abandoning the orphans in order to join the captain elsewhere,[8] even though in reality she worked with orphans for the rest of her life. In 1958, the year of the film's release, she founded a children's home in Taiwan, which she continued to run until her death in 1970. She continues to be regarded as a national hero.[citation needed]


The film was the second most popular film at the British box office in 1959 behind Carry on Nurse[9] with a gross of $700,000.[10]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p251
  2. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. ^ "Discover the must-see locations used for filming in Wales". Retrieved 10 June 2023.
  4. ^ "China Town - Liverpool". CITY PORTAL LIVERPOOL. 28 September 2009. Archived from the original on 12 October 2006.
  5. ^ Munck, Ronaldo (2003)."Ethnic Minority Perspectives". Reinventing the City?: Liverpool in Comparative Perspective. Liverpool University Press. p. 132. ISBN 0-85323-807-3.
  6. ^ Sam Wellman. Gladys Aylward: Missionary to China, Barbour Publishing Inc., 1998, page 197.
  7. ^ Gladys Aylward, Missionary, dies New York Times
  8. ^ Wellman, page 198.
  9. ^ "Year Of Profitable British Films." Times [London, England] 1 Jan. 1960: 13. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Gag-Films Rule British Trade". Variety. 20 April 1960. p. 47 – via

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