Little Kathy discovers a man wanted for murder hiding in her family's barn. When she askes him who he was, he says Jesus Christ just before he goes unconscious. Kathy and her siblings are convinced that he is Jesus and try to hide him from grown-ups.
Hayley Mills ... Kathy Bostock
Bernard Lee ... Mr. Bostock
Alan Bates ... The Man
Norman Bird ... Eddie
Elsie Wagstaff ... Auntie Dorothy
Diane Holgate ... Nan Bostock
Alan Barnes ... Charles Bostock
Hamilton Dyce ... The Vicar
Diane Clare ... Sunday School Teacher
Patricia Heneghan ... Salvation Army Girl
Roy Holder ... Jackie
John Arnatt ... Superintendent Teesdale
Howard Douglas ... The Vet
Director: Bryan Forbes
Codecs: XVid / MP3
Forbes' well-loved film performs a delicate balancing act between symbolism and naturalism, and does so with sensitivity and humour. His achievement becomes more evident when one considers the recent Andrew Lloyd-Webber version of this story, which considerably Americanised and coarsened it, floundering badly as a result. Director Forbes, whose first and arguably finest film this was, had previously been better known as an actor. His skills and experience are in evidence from the start here, as he brings the best out of the children who make up a good proportion of his cast.
In a film that has a lot to say about the grander issues of religion, a lot of the real pleasure here comes from the quieter interactions between youngsters, as they either gauchely hide things from their elders, or express the ironies of simple belief. Juxtaposing the innocence of childhood with the cruelty and persecution of the adult world, and with a fair dose of symbolism and various interpretative levels, the result is in some contrast to the other prestigious productions of the time. The recent ground breaking kitchen sink dramas such as that by Karel Reisz (Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, 1960) or pictures of aggressive social mobility from Jack Clayton (Room At The Top, 1959) were full of working class characters. They focussed on the newly discovered reality of their aims and aspirations, and were part sociological exploration of class, part attempt to wrestle poetry of sorts from everyday life. While Whistle Down the Wind benefits from the breath of fresh air currently blowing through the British industry - the location shoot and naturalistic performances are especially characteristic and effective - the sympathetic portrayals in the film serve to emphasise the fact that its concerns are less sociological than theological, even if its slightly self-conscious air shows a continuing concern to gain a 'significance' from the community, at least of some sort. It's a film where outright class-consciousness rarely raises its head while the anger of the times, seen elsewhere on the contemporary screen, is almost entirely absent. In fact when they occur at all, such issues only appear in the context of organised religion, as for instance when the children encounter the doctrinal certainties of the local vicar, an aloof establishment figure, much more concerned with the vandalism of his church than the urgent questions of his young parishioners. The irony is of course that, while discussing the missing guttering from the church, he is entirely unaware that real spirituality exists in the barn down the road in the hearts of children.
Whistle Down The Wind is something of a family affair, in more ways than one. Not only do the principals mostly spring from the Bostock family or their close acquaintances, but the film itself is based on a novel by Mary Hayley Bell, the wife of actor John Mills and mother of Hayley - who plays the lead Kathy. Some have objected that she is too old to play the part and, strictly speaking this is true, although on screen her proximity to womanhood allows her "I love you" to The Man Blakey (Alan Bates) a meaning potential unavailable to a younger performer. Hayley's role and performance reminds one of another she had provided a couple of years back, in Tiger Bay, a related tale of a platonic love between a child and a murderer. The star spent a good deal of her early career in British film persuading audiences that she could successfully grow up on screen.
Much of the success of the film springs from its gentle and sophisticated treatment of religion. Put in the mouths of babes, doctrinal criticism is thereby sidestepped and the biggest, potential, objection to the piece - that the confusion of a murderer with Christ might be blasphemous - is largely defused by having The Man say very little (his main conversation, an imitation of the parables, is a re-telling to a rapt audience of 'Ruth Lawrence, air hostess' from a comic). The mistake in recognition is made by innocents, and is therefore understandable. The director overcomes objections by charm. And while Forbes has his Man reinforce the mistaken impression by his opening words, the first sight of him, arms outstretched newly appeared in a 'stable' (a evocative stance reprised as he ultimately surrenders), suggestive heavenward point-of-view-shots and so on, the audience is never made to feel uncomfortable with the suggestions. In fact at a time when the BBFC had firm views on the Church and established religion seen on screen, the only other title that comes easily to mind dealing with such matters in a light-hearted and successful way is the very different Boulting brothers' Heavens Above!, with Peter Sellars.
The film's charm is greatly enhanced by a memorable score by Malcolm Arnold, the highlight of which is reworking of We Three Kings - perkily reprised up tempo as the trio of youngsters pay their homage to their 'Christ', or while choreographing a march down the road. The ensemble playing of the film is excellent. Bernard Lee (more familiar to audiences as 'M' in the James Bond series) turns in sterling work as father Bostock, while among the younger actors Alan Barnes as Charlie is also a standout. It is Charlie who expresses the final disillusionment: "It isn't Jesus, it's just some fella," but faith of sorts remains amongst many of the children, even as Blakey is led away. The film's final sense is of religious reinforcement rather than disappointment ("You missed him this time but he'll be coming again," Kathy tells some latecomers to the barn) while the details of the murder in question is left sufficiently vague so as not to entirely deprive Bates' character of sympathy, even as he is handed over to the authorities. There's a sense that the killer has been redeemed by the innocence and trust of his admirers rather than the other way round - a subtly ironic turn of events, which never the less makes for a satisfying conclusion. For those who enjoy British cinema of this decade the charming experience offered by Forbes' debut is unmissable, while others who have seen the film before there will be no hesitation.
Produced by Sir Richard Attenborough (Jurassic Park), and written by Lady Mills (wife of Sir John, a veteran British actor), this is a charming look at childhood, through the eyes of three children, in the early 60`s. An injured, escaped murderer seeks refuge in their barn (Alan Bates), the kids find him, and believe hes Jesus...(when they ask who he is, he mutters `Jesus Christ!`). The script is so innocent, we were these children not so long ago, theres a little of them in all of us.. Hayley Mills (daughter of Sir John Mills, and the star of many Disney movies), stars as Cathy, the eldest of the kids, barely in her teens. Bernard Lee (`M` in countless James Bond movies), plays the father of the family... What makes it so good, is the way the kids converse with each other, their innocence of thinking that a holy figure has come to live in their barn, of all places!! It doesn`t mean to be funny, but it is. Its all too light hearted to be anything else..Just a wonderful, very little known movie.
I have enjoyed reading the comments on this truly marvelous film. Its main appeal is that it has a timeless nature – which explains why so many visitors to this site have only discovered it comparatively recently.
Its primary characteristic is indeed an omnipresent nostalgia, present even on its release . Many who saw it (including myself) when it came out in 1961 were struck by this. I think the major reinforcer of this quality is Malcolm Arnold's hauntingly melodious music – which manages to be both wistfully operatic and deftly atmospheric. Surely this composer is one of those who have managed to capture popular sentiment and combine it with admirable developmental structure.
As for the performances, they are extremely inspired. And I have nothing to add. No one has yet mentioned, however, the superb vignettes such as 'Auntie' with her aversion to port wine 'not since VE day'. These stem, in turn, from the brilliant script by Waterhouse and Hall, and illustrate the way that their TV assignments were overflowing into conventional cinema to great comic effect. Indeed, the references to popular TV shows in their script for this film is a measure of the importance of the box in sociological history .
All in all, a landmark film that has succeeded in touching the lives of many people in its modest and profound way.
Definitely one that should be seen and seen again in the 21st century!
I have remembered this film well since I was a child and its message of the power of belief has stayed with me for years.
Far from demonstrating any futility in religious faith, this understated gem shows the power and persistence of faith despite the obstacles of adults' failings, cynicism, disbelief and preoccupations. Perhaps children understand this movie better than jaded, world-weary adults.
* The siffleur on the sound-track is the producer, Richard Attenborough.
* The title "Whistle Down The Wind" originally comes from falconry and means "to let a falcon fly away free".
* The original story was written by Hayley Mill's mother, Mary Hayley Bell.
* The first film to be directed by 'Byran Forbes' , he replaced a director who dropped out.