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Whistle Down the Wind
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Whistle Down the Wind More at IMDbPro »

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45 out of 49 people found the following review useful:

A Wind That Blows Everyone good

Author: FilmFlaneur from London
1 July 2004

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.

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36 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

Beautiful, nostalgic film

Author: hesketh27 from Southport Lancashire Uk
10 December 2004

Whistle Down the Wind has remained one of my favourite films ever since I saw it as a young child many years ago when my parents took me to see it when it was originally released. The performances by all the children in the film are charming and Alan Bates excels as the criminal who is mistaken for Jesus. For me, the special aspects of the film are its genuine innocence and the capturing of a much simpler time in England that will never return. I myself was born and grew up in the north in an area similar to the one shown in the film and today, now aged 48, watch the film with great nostalgia and a warm feeling about my carefree life as a child. I also feel sadness that many children in our country today cannot enjoy the freedom to roam and play far and wide as I (and the children in the film) could do at that time. I have never met anyone who didn't enjoy this underrated classic and defy anyone not to be moved by the naturalness of the performances. A marvelous addition to anyone's DVD collection and one that I treasure.

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28 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

A movie about faith...with a cynical edge

Author: moonspinner55 from las vegas, nv
3 February 2001

Adolescent English farm-girl discovers an escaped, bearded convict sleeping in the family barn and thinks he's Jesus. Young Kathy needs to believe this, even after the police come to cart him away. He even drops a picture of the Savior, which seems to symbolize not only the prisoner's fall from grace but one more sign for Kathy that, yes, this mysterious man might be Him. "Whistle Down the Wind" is a hard-shelled movie that says we lose hope and faith as we mature--which isn't an original idea for a film, but the cynical way this is presented catches you off-guard. One little boy numbers the eggs he has has eaten (a mixture of his bemusement and his feeling of monotony), one little girl vows to keep counting until Kathy comes out of the barn. These children need to believe too, of course, but they're much more raw than Kathy; they strip ideas down to the basics. Kathy believes blindly. It's a touching character, the centerpiece of the film, and I was enchanted by Hayley Mills' open face and yearning smile. The other youngsters are also remarkable. If the film doesn't offer us fanciful answers, it does provide playful bits of visual humor. Even the rhythm of the kids' words is comical (and the way they relate to one another seems very natural). The film gives away nothing without an eternal struggle, and at the end there is no clear answer. I believe the next day would become routine for the children, they would go back to their basics. But Kathy has changed, and the convict has as well. Their lives intersected for a moment, and, though others became involved, they both learned something from the other about the need to believe. ***1/2 from ****

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25 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Don't forget the supporting roles!

Author: grbancroft
31 July 2005

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!

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23 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

one of the greatest British black and white movies ever made?

Author: Simon ( from N.Ireland
23 October 1999

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.

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23 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

What a discovery! Little Miss Mills

Author: FORREST136 ( from New York City
21 July 2001

Beautifully photographed in black and white this film should be considered a MASTERPIECE! Haley Millsgives the performance of her career (maybe next to"Tiger Bay) as Cathy. Alan Bates is also excellent! It is real shame that these classic films do not get airplay on cable.

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17 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

A sunday afternoon classic

Author: Owen Christopher Keenan ( from Liverpool, England
9 May 2000

One of my favourite english films. Beautifully portraying rural Lancashire life in the sixties. The story is touching and marvellously played by all the children involved. One of the few films that can bring a tear to my eye, maybe because it reminds me of the child I once was in the sixties, but probably because it is a moving film and I suspect it would have the same affect on a native New Yorker. One of those old classics that if you haven't seen yet, you will be pleasantly surprised when you get round to it. You can take it as recommended!

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18 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Amazing movie!

Author: riverprincess from Australia
27 April 2003

I stayed up late Sunday night and all I knew about this film was what I read in the TV guide, that it starred Hayley Mills (I had only seen her in one other film). I didn't expect this to be such a moving and wonderful film. Kathy (Mills) is a girl who finds a man in her barn who she believes is Jesus Christ (Alan Bates,) but he's really a murderer on the run. Along with her siblings and the other town children they all believe in him and take care of him. The ending is very powerful and moving. Beautifully filmed in black and white, I found this to be a really great film. Hayley Mills is excellent, Alan Bates, all the children and the rest of the cast are all terrific. One of the best 1960's British film that I have watched - 10/10.

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13 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

I'll call my kitten Spider. And when he grows up I'll teach him to hate yours!

Author: hugh1971 from London
23 September 2006

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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14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Superb movie

Author: Meaghan Edwards from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
9 July 2005

While I was on vacation in England in 1999, I had managed to see Andrew Lloyd Webbers's production of Whistle Down The Wind. I was, to put it simply, completely blown away by it. I loved the the impressive stage work and the the music. Most importantly, though, I adored the story and the characters.

I had heard that the musical was based on a movie with the same name, and made a mental note to try to get a copy of it when I went home. It was a very hard movie for me to obtain, but it was absolutely worth the effort and the money I had spent. It's a shame such a gem such as this one is underrated. If you ever get a chance, please don't hesitate to see this classic.

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