John Mills won his Oscar from his only nomination for portraying Michael in Ryan's Daughter.
Ryan's Daughter contains more than one supporting performance of note from the town's domineering Priest played by Trevor Howard, to the titular Ryan, the father of Rosy portrayed by Leo McLern, and Rosy's faithful and kind husband portrayed by Robert Mitchum. The only man who ended up being nominated though should not have been too much of a surprise I suppose since John Mills has the most Oscary role playing a mentally handicapped man who is considered to be the "village idiot".
This type of role is popular with the Oscars although I can't say they are particular popular with me. Although there are few I do like, many times they can be examples of needless overacting, or frankly just bad acting. The simply truth about these performances in many ways though are you either like them or you don't, there is not really that much middle ground when it comes to these performances, because the actors go out on such a limb, and the actor's whole performance depends just on that limb.
Well I must admit I do like Mills's performance here I can easily see why many wouldn't but I must say what he does in the role works for me. Although perhaps this can be partially attributed to the fact that I have not seen a great deal of Mills besides his Oscar winning role here therefore perhaps that helps him, for me anyways, slip completely into the character of Michael. I have to admit I really do not see him acting the role, like the way many of these performances are he simply is Michael.
I think his mannerisms do work from his almost constant grin, and his look of interest or inquiry. His limp and the way he walks never felt forced, but within Mills's creation of Michael that feels perfectly natural within his creation. Something that is usually stated although untrue is that Mills' performance is entirely mute, well in fact Michael does make some grunts actually from time to time. These grunts work well with the rest of the performance and again actually do realize Michael very well.
This performance is not only about character creation though as Michael has one very important aspect of his performance which is that he is clearly in love with Rosy even though she finds him revolting. Mills is again good in just giving an earnest performance in this regard showing that Michael loves in a very simple, but a very genuine fashion. He succeeds in making Michael a bit heartbreaking actually because he shows that Michael simply loves her unconditionally, and for her to be simply to be disgusted by him is a tragedy.
It is true that Mills' whole character could be seen as a bit of a contrivance in that even though looked upon as the "village idiot" he is far more descent than the rest of the villagers making the others the real idiots. I actually think Mills makes this work because he keeps his characterization throughout he never makes any concessions, he as well still brings an emotional impact with his performance as well just through his small little scenes showing Michael's love of Rosy. This performance might not be for everyone but for me it absolutely succeeds.