The film, Whistle Down the Wind, turned up in The Warehouse’s bargain DVDs this weekend, along with Tiger Bay and another similar movie, all in one package. I saw Tiger Bay when it first came out, but hadn’t ever seen this later Hayley Mills’ movie.
It’s a wonderful small-scale piece in which three young siblings who live on a farm discover a man hiding in their father’s barn, and come to believe he’s Jesus. The implications for the children, and the other village children, and the man himself, are profound. And even though we know the man isn’t Jesus, we understand the children’s belief and their theological questioning, and appreciate why they think the way they do.
The film would be nothing without the integrity of the two younger children and a number of others who are so much part of the landscape that everything about them is believable. Hayley Mills is very good, being almost the only child with previous film experience, but she doesn’t quite belong in this environment the way the other kids do. That’s not to say she doesn’t play the part well; Mills always had a sincerity and genuineness that transcended everything else about the films she appeared in. She was a natural screen performer and deserved the accolades she got.
The film plays out almost entirely on a real farm, where the slush and mud is authentic, the buildings are as old as they look, and the craggy trees and the winter sunshine are bleak but not unbeautiful. Even though the interiors were mostly shot at Pinewood Studios, they match the exteriors well.
The story is moving, but more than anything it’s the faces of the children that are so wonderful. These Northern kids for the most part went back to their normal lives, but you’d think they’d been working in movies since the day they were born. There’s not a drop of ‘acting’ anywhere. Diane Holgate as Hayley Mills’ younger sister has that Northern stance and way of looking that was still visible on Coronation St up until a few years ago. Alan Barnes lives the part from beginning to end: the irritating little brother, the child angrily questioning Jesus as to why he didn’t keep his kitten alive, the innocent little boy quite capable of facing up to his perpetually annoyed aunt, the birthday boy demanding that his game be played because it’s his birthday.
There’s another boy in it whose face, the moment it appeared, was familiar. So strong are his features that they didn’t change a jot as he progressed into adulthood. While I wouldn’t have known his name, Roy Holder, it’s interesting to see that he’s been going strong ever since Whistle Down the Wind was made.
And then there are a host of other children: reality written all over them.
Bernard Miles, Norman Bird and Alan Bates are the main adult characters, and fit in with the milieu well.