Hayley Mills graced us with her talent in a second DCOM. Her first was The Parent Trap II in 1986, written by Stu Krieger. Then, after her role in Good Morning, Miss Bliss, she portrayed Peggy Dickinson in Back Home. Per the Tampa Bay Times, this Disney Channel Premiere film debuted on a four-day free preview window. That’s how the channel used to attract new subscribers when it was a pay cable service. Back Home was directed by Piers Haggard and based on a book by Michelle Magorian. David Wood adapted the text into a screenplay and was nominated for an Emmy. The film was produced by Disney Channel and the Verronmead production company.
This is the fourth World War II-era film I’ve watched from the Disney Channel Premiere Film catalogue, but this one quickly gets to the end of the war. Peggy’s daughter Virginia (Hayley Carr) has been living in the United States during wartime, but she’s now “back home” in England. She meets her brother Charlie for the first time and doesn’t recognize her father, a soldier, when he returns. While in America, Virginia picked up the nickname “Rusty,” which certainly doesn’t stick in England. British people in this movie are definitely stereotyped as being overly stuffy and strict. Rusty’s boarding school for girls is the worst. Her peers chide her for simply using the word “okay,” and only a boy at a nearby school will befriend her. He and Rusty discover an abandoned mansion, and she starts to decorate it to make it her retreat from school.
If I had adhered to my original plan, I would have watched this film on its anniversary date in June. I am glad I waited, since it’s now Christmastime and there’s a little Christmas celebration in the film. The tree is humble, but Rusty is so happy by the light of the fire as she opens up a pack of stencils — she uses these to paint the walls of her secret mansion. Unfortunately, the Christmas scene gives way to a brutal attempt of corporal punishment from Rusty’s uptight father toward her brother. One unusual aspect of this movie (for Disney Channel) is that the story implies that Mills’ character Peggy might have had a flirtation with an American soldier while her husband was away. We learn by the end of the film that he was just a friend, but still interesting to see the suggestion that it could have been something more.
The schoolgirls continue to treat Rusty horribly for having lived in the U.S., and she takes every weekend she can to go to her hideout. Rusty becomes sicker and sicker, ultimately running away. She is found and embraced by her mother. By the closing of the film, Hayley no longer has to attend boarding school, the dad has left his family (but comes to visit them), and Peggy and Rusty are getting along better than ever.
Though Hayley Mills herself came to America to act, not to evacuate, she had insightful things to say about her experience in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “As far as my own life was concerned, going over to America was a most wonderful holiday. It was like going to Disneyland. There was never very much difference in my mind between the two. America was a playground and everything was larger than life. The sun was always shining and the cars were always clean and shiny and everyone said, ‘You’re welcome.'” The star said that when she went back to her English boarding school, she was only allowed to wash her hair once a week.
I love Hayley Mills’ relationship with the Disney Channel in this era. They showed off her talent in new projects at the time, but they also celebrated her classic Disney films. I look forward to rewatching those in the new year! Hayley Carr was just right for her role and brought such energy to the screen, even as her character was downtrodden. It looks like there are two notable Hayley Carrs out there — a life coach, and this actress, who wrote a 2022 holiday movie called B&B Merry.