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Whistle Down The Wind (1961)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Whistle Down The Wind (1961)
DirectorBryan Forbes
Production CompanyBeaver Films
ProducerRichard Attenborough
ScreenplayKeith Waterhouse
 Willis Hall
From a novel byMary Hayley Bell
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
MusicMalcolm Arnold

Cast: Hayley Mills (Kathy Bostock); Bernard Lee (Bostock); Alan Bates (The Man); Norman Bird (Eddie); Elsie Wagstaff (Auntie Dorothy)

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Three children on a north Lancashire farm help hide an escaped criminal who they believe is actually Jesus Christ.

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Mary Hayley Bell, wife of actor John Mills, used their three children Hayley, Juliet and Jonathan as the inspiration for the main characters in her 1957 novella Whistle Down the Wind. It was probably inevitable that the film version directed by Bryan Forbes in 1961 would star Hayley Mills: not only was she at that point the most popular child star in the world, but the film's producer Richard Attenborough was also a good friend of the family. In it she gives perhaps her subtlest and most naturalistic performance, although Alan Barnes, playing her brother Charles, steals every scene he's in.

Originally set in Sussex, the story was relocated to North Lancashire after Attenborough asked writers Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse, in their words, to 'northernise' it. This helps to make the simple and delicate story more plausible by grounding it in a more harshly realistic setting. But the more overtly Christian parallels, such as the playground denial of Christ and the stranger standing in the shape of the cross while being searched, are less well integrated.

Forbes, making his directorial debut, deftly handles both the adult and child performers, with Bernard Lee giving an understated and nuanced portrayal of the gruff but loving father. Filming mostly on location, with some interior scenes shot at Pinewood, Forbes contrasts location shots of the children dwarfed in the vast countryside with scenes filmed in the cramped studio barn. This is particularly effective in the film's climactic dialogue scene between Kathy and the stranger. The alternating shots of Hayley Mills and Alan Bates - she outside the barn and he inside, with only a small high window to communicate through - help make the sense of disappointment and vanquished innocence almost palpable.

A major part of the film's charm lies in the score composed by Malcolm Arnold, which features a jaunty arrangement of the traditional carol 'We Three Kings' which he humorously links to the three children. For the original soundtrack recording, the memorable theme tune was actually whistled by Richard Attenborough. Having already inspired a music video in the 1980s, in 1998 the novel and the film were turned into a West End musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. 'Jesus' in the barn (2:05)
2. Tell us a story! (2:15)
3. Cake for Jesus (3:40)
Production stills
Publicity materials
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Arnold, Sir Malcolm (1921-2006)
Bates, Alan (1934-2003)
Forbes, Bryan (1926-2013)
Lee, Bernard (1908-1981)
Mills, Hayley (1946-)
Priestley, Tom (1932-)
Children on Film