Title: Whistle Down the Wind
Director: Bryan Forbes
based on the novel of Mary Hayley Bell
Music: Malcolm Arnold
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
The original novel WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, written in 1959 by Mary Hayley Bell, who is Hayley Mills’ mother, so there is little wonder that Hayley is cast as the lead after Disney’s POLLYANNA (1960) has catapulted her to stardom and she has become the last person ever to receive a Juvenile Oscar. Also it marks a director debut of Bryan Forbes (SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON 1964).
Hayley plays Kathy Bostock, a young schoolgirl living in the farm of Lancashire, with her widowed father (Lee), her younger sister Nan (Holgate) and younger brother Charles (Barnes), as well as their auntie (Wagstaff). Due to a sheer coincidence, Kathy firmly believes a man (Bates) who hides in their barn, is Jesus Christ himself, this is where the story works, thanks to Hayley’s superbly credible performance and her mother’s well-conceived creation, Kathy is disconcerted by speaking of the truth of Jesus and for fear of being punished for blasphemy, so it is pretty logic for her to be startled by the man’s exact presence in the barn and his muttering word “Jesus Christ” before passing out, and believes he is Jesus, arrives for the Second Coming. It potently justifies a rather cockamamie situation, which serves as the cornerstone for the ensuing happenings. Once Kathy is on board, it is not difficult to convince her two younger and more impressionable siblings to believe her words, then a whole bunch of school-kids, deferentially joins them to worship Jesus-in-the-barn.
The story fluidly blends children’s naiveté with the religious influence, and stimulates sheer zest and excitement in children’s endeavour to save Jesus from the intervention of adults, and the man’s true identity, a criminal on the lam, consigns a trenchant contradiction into a dichotomy between children’s innocence and grown-ups’ worldliness, where credulity and blind faith are put to good use by the man, for his own interest, who even menaces the children-friendly trappings with a gun in hand in the final siege, and from A to Z, the film has been deliberately avoiding to address the elephant-in-the-room, so in the end, in Kathy’s eyes, it is Jesus who has been captured, not a wanted offender.
The three children are the backbone of this rustically beguiling film, Hayley Mills’ dogged devotion towards her belief, Diane Holgate’s spur-of-the-moment slip and Alan Barnes’ fractious mischief, plus his adorable acting-cum-being-himself antics (and he is the one who is telling the truth, although no one takes him seriously), all enliven the relatively small scale of the narrative with immense delight. Alan Bates, only in his second film role, underplays his handsomeness (although the requisite is that he should look at least remotely like J.C.) to foreground the moral ambiguity of his character, a cynical chap, very cagey about his criminal background (supposedly to be a wife murderer according to IMDB), he is a blank paper just plays along with the kids to secure a getaway plan, at one point, viewers are tempted to be ready for something rather ugly will happen, which is foiled regarding to the family-friendly grain, but a sense of remorse is accurately added in his last words? There is no cheesy redemption to facilitate a feel-good ending, and under the coat of a children story, the film in effect, pinpoints how easily religion can corrupt a child’s psyche, being a double-edged sword, sometimes it is much sharper than we think, we must wield it cautiously.