Whistle Down the Wind (1961) – Bryan Forbes

As I return to the Family Genre in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, I come across a number of recommendations from a screening for E.T. which I’ve previously covered

Whistle Down the Wind is a British film that focuses on a group of young children, including Charles (Alan Barnes), Nan (Diane Holgate) and Jackie (Roy Holder) who encounter a murderer (Alan Bates) hiding out on a farm, whom they mistakenly believe is the second coming of Christ.

Hayley Mills and Bernard Lee are also featured in the cast in a strong screenplay based on the original novel by Mary Hayley Bell.

Bernard Lee is a single father, Bostock, Mills is Kathy, the oldest daughter, Holgate is the middle child, and and Barnes is the youngest. They are living with Bostock’s sister, Dorothy (Elsie Wagstaff) following the death of their mother.

When Kathy comes across the Man, he is obviously faint, and ill, when she asks who he is, he seems as shocked as she is, and exclaims ‘Jesus Christ!’ before passing out. Kathy takes him at his word, and shares this revelation with her siblings, who work to keep his presence a secret.

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Alternately funny, and heart-rending, this fantastically scripted film features some strong performances, and very honest moments. The child performers are all delightful, and the way the story plays out allows for the viewer to buy in nicely to the concept.

There are secrets, bullies, family problems, and tense moments as the story unfolds. Lee’s Bostock is incredibly disconnected from his children, in that English working class, stiff upper lip way that prevents him from ever really knowing his children, and it’s sad. You know that he cares for his children, but he is supposed to be the big strong, emotionally unavailable patriarch.

That may also explain why Kathy is so eager to believe that the Man is, in fact, Jesus (all the Sunday school and Christian schooling in the town no doubt lend to it). He seems more compassionate, or at least that’s what Kathy projects onto him, and once he realises the children’s beliefs, he’s not afraid to exploit it; even as the police continue to comb the area for him.

Engaging, entertaining, and moving, this was yet another film that I have never heard of, and now that I have, I can’t believe that was possible. A solid piece of work that from the off moves towards its inescapable climax.

Mills gives her all in this one, and she is as honest and charming as the English countryside the story is set against.

This one was a very pleasant surprise.

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