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J. Lee Thompson
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Little Kathy discovers a man wanted for murder hiding in her family's barn. When she asks him who he is, 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. Written by
I'll call my kitten Spider. And when he grows up I'll teach him to hate yours!
Once in a while you come across a film that is perfect - and this film is one of them. It has everything - humour, pathos, skilled acting, beautiful cinematography and it deals with the deepest questions of human existence. I found myself alternating between laughter and tears. It seems to touch on deep themes which films rarely dare to nowadays - themes of belief, faith, and the meaning of love.
The photography of the bleak Lancashire countryside is superbly crisp, the facial expressions of the actors (especially Mr Bates) let us know exactly what is going on in their minds but subtly, in a way that is never seen nowadays in films where everything must be made explicit.The children interact entirely naturally and they are not merely credulous, but curious and questioning ('he's not Jesus, he's just some fella'). Some scenes are deeply moving, in particular when the children dance under a tree to the music of 'We Three Kings' in joy and praise at seeing what they believe to be their Saviour - seeming to sum up the deep, almost pagan connection between religion and the English countryside.
The film deftly deals with the changing England of the time. By the early sixties, mainstream Christianity had begun to lose its hold on the English people (this was the time of Bishop Robinson and the 'Honest to God' debate); the decaying, plundered church is representative of the decline in organised religion, juxtaposed with the 'true' faith of the children. The religious figures, however, are not pilloried as would be the case in most modern films - they are treated sympathetically. I particularly liked the look of awkwardness on the Sunday school teacher's face when she is asked a question about Jesus which she knows she cannot answer with any honesty, and which she clumsily sidesteps.
In many ways the film is an elegy for a lost England - an England where children roam the countryside freely, where the nearest telephone is half a mile away, and where children live in relative material poverty but with strong familial love, where the simple pleasures of life are enjoyed - playing in the open air, having a birthday party at home, or reading late into the night. The film could not realistically have been made even just ten years later.
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