Alan Bates and Hayley Mills star in this enduring childhood fable. Three Lancashire children find a criminal hiding out in their barn and come to believe he’s Jesus Christ
Among the most enduring – and most unusual – post-war British children’s dramas, Whistle Down The Wind catches its star Hayley Mills at the peak of her powers.
Adapted by Keith Waterhouse from a story by Mills’ mother, Mary Hayley Bell, it’s neither a character study nor a coming-of-age tale. Rather it’s a sort of parable about the power and limits of religious faith, and the displacement of childhood certainty with doubt.
The story centres on three rural Lancashire kids who find a mysterious stranger (Bates) asleep in their barn. The eldest, Kathy (Mills), asks him who he is. His first words to her – "Jesus Christ!" – are misunderstood and Kathy becomes convinced that the man, a murderer on the run from the police, is the Messiah. Slowly she weaves an entire mythology around him until all he says and does is loaded with religious significance.
Though just four years into her acting career, Mills give a performance that is quiet but effortlessly natural. There’s little that’s mawkish or manipulative in Bryan Forbes’ direction, and the bleak Lancashire landscapes and haunting score contribute to the poignant tone. Alan Bates successfully negotiates a difficult role by underplaying things and the supporting kids, none of whom had acted before, are engaging and unaffected.
However, there’s also a vagueness about what’s being signified here. In early scenes there’s a sprinkling of irony as the children act out their favourite Bible stories and ponder their extraordinary luck. When they eventually discover the man’s true identity – and as a result lead the police to his hide-out – Kathy remains unchanged by the experience; her capacity for belief, the conclusion suggests, is endless and unshakeable.
At key moments there’s implied criticism of an established church that’s evasive, hypocritical and officious, and Forbes very effectively evokes the children’s private world. However it’s Kathy’s little brother (Barnes) who learns the most difficult lesson, in the process providing a clue to the underlying message. "’T’ain’t Jesus," is his bitter assessment of the man they thought might save them. "He’s just some fella."
Alan Bates as The Man
Hayley Mills as Kathy
Bernard Lee as Bostock
Norman Bird as Eddie
Diane Clare as Sunday School Teacher
Hamilton Dyce as The Vicar
John Arnatt as Supt. Teesdale
Ronald Hines as PC Thurstow
Michael Lees as 1st Civil Defence Worker
Michael Raghan as 2nd Civil Defence Worker
Howard Douglas as The Vet
Patricia Heneghan as Salvation Army Girl
Gerald Sim as Detective
Elsie Wagstaff as Auntie Dorothy
May Barton as Villager
Diane Holgate as Nan
Alan Barnes as Charles
Roy Holder as Jackie
Barry Dean as Raymond
Art Direction: Ray Simm
Camera Operator: David Harcourt
Director Of Photography: Arthur Ibbetson
Hairdresser: Stella Rivers
Makeup Artist: Geoffrey Rodway
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
Director: Bryan Forbes
Assistant Director: Basil Rayburn
Second Assistant Director: Charles Blair
Editor: Max Benedict
Producer: Richard Attenborough
Casting: Maureen Goldner
Original Music Composer: Malcolm Arnold
Novel: Mary Hayley Bell
UK | 99 minutes | 1961