After a confusing exchange with a strange man (Alan Bates) they find hiding in their family barn, Kathy Bostock (Hayley Mills) and her young siblings jump to the conclusion that the man in reality an escaped killer is none other than Jesus Christ. Excitement erupts as word spreads among the children in their small farming community in northwest England. Adult skepticism abounds, until their father (Bernard Lee) catches wind of the tale and begins to investigate.
Whistle Down the Wind is a 1961 British film, directed by Bryan Forbes, screenplay by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, from the novel by Mary Hayley Bell.
When an injured wife murderer takes refuge on a remote Lancashire farm, the owners three children mistakenly believe him to be the Second Coming of Christ.
The plot follows the lives of three Lancashire farm children who discover a fugitive hiding in their barn. The bearded man, referred to as "Blakey" by the police, is mistaken for Jesus Christ by the children, who are influenced by stories they have heard at Sunday school. The fugitive makes no attempt to correct their mistake, especially when he discovers the eldest child, Kathy, is determined to protect him from discovery by the local police. We learn from a poster that he is wanted for murder.
Most of the children in the nearby small town eventually become aware that "Jesus" is living in the barn, complicating Kathys attempt at keeping it a secret. When the news finally reaches an adult, Kathys father, the police are called in to apprehend the criminal.
The children of the village, perhaps 100 of them by now in on the secret, converge on the barn. Convinced that she has let Jesus down, Kathy sneaks behind the structure and apologies to Blakey that she can no longer protect him. He forgives the girl and, after much prompting from Kathy, promises she will see him again. Resigned to his fate, Blakey tosses his revolver out of the barn door and surrenders to the police.
Once Blakey is taken away and the crowd disperses, Kathy is approached by two very young children who ask to see Jesus. She tells them that they missed him this time, but he will be back one day.
The film contrasts the childrens innocent faith with the pragmatic and suspicious adults in the town. Heavy in allegory, many of the characters and events parallel those found in historical Christian literature. In one scene, a child is mocked and beaten into denying he had seen Jesus. After the boys third denial, a train whistle is heard (representing Peters denial in Luke 22). The strains of We three kings can be discerned in the score as Kathy, her brother and sister march with the food gifts they have acquired for the man in the stable. They are spotted and followed by a group of country children (shepherds). The early core of children who are in on the secret number a dozen and are specifically called The Disciples in the cast list. The secret comes out at the end of a childrens party/Last Supper. When the apprehended Blakey is being frisked by police, his posture, with arms outstretched to his sides, is a clear reference to the Crucifixion.
The script was based on a novel of the same name by Mary Hayley Bell, and her daughter, Hayley Mills, played the leading role. Alan Bates, in his first starring film role, played the man in the barn. Local schoolchildren from the villages around Burnley and Clitheroe, Lancashire were used as extras and in particular children from Chatburn Primary School played the "disciples" in the film. The theme music from the film, by Malcolm Arnold, became a classic.
Bryan Forbes put the budget at £162,000 although other sources say it was lower.
In the mid 1990s, Whistle Down The Wind was adapted into a musical by Russell Labey and Richard Taylor for the National Youth Music Theatre. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman later created a more commercial adaptation of the same title. Highlight songs from their musical version are "No Matter What" (which became a very successful single when released by Boyzone), "Whistle Down The Wind" and "Vaults of Heaven".
The film had its World Premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square on July 20th 1961. It played there for 3 weeks ending its run on August 9th, three days after it began its general release in the London area.
The film was favourably reviewed upon its original release, including praise from The New York Times. The film was nominated for four BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards:Best British Actress, Hayley Mills
Best British Film, Bryan Forbes
Best British Screenplay, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall
Best Film from any Source, Bryan Forbes
The film was popular at the box office, being the 8th most popular movie at the UK box office in 1961. By 1971 it had earned a profit of over £240,000. Bryan Forbes later said it was the most popular and profitable film he ever made.Hayley Mills as Kathy Bostock
Bernard Lee as Mr. Bostock
Alan Bates as The Man
Norman Bird as Eddie
Diane Clare as Sunday School Teacher
Patricia Heneghan as Salvation Army Girl
John Arnatt as Superintendent Teesdale
Elsie Wagstaff as Auntie Dorothy
Hamilton Dyce as The Vicar
Howard Douglas as The Vet
Ronald Hines as P.C. Thurstow
Gerald Sim as Detective
Michael Lees as 1st Civil Defence Worker
Michael Raghan as 2nd Civil Defence Worker
May Barton as Villager
Diane Holgate as Nan Bostock
Alan Barnes as Charles Bostock
Roy Holder as Jackie
Barry Dean as The teenage boy who slapped Hayley in Playground.
Hayley Mills and Norman Bird appear in Whistle Down the Wind and Sky West and Crooked. Alan Bates appears in Whistle Down the Wind and A Kind of Loving. So Well Remembered (1947). Richard Attenborough produced Whistle Down the Wind and appears in The Angry Silence. Bernard Lee appears in Whistle Down the Wind and Cone of Silence.
The film has been referenced several times in popular music:In the episode of the British television sitcom Dinnerladies called "Nightshift", the character of Bren mentions the film.
The title to Angelicas 1999 single "Why Did You Let My Kitten Die?" is a variation of a quote from this film, "why did you let that kitten die". Another line in the song is "I know something that you dont know" which is a variant of "we know something you dont know" from the film.
Totos lyrics to their song "Stranger in Town" and their music video for the same song make references to Whistle Down the Wind.
Haircut One Hundred lead singer Nick Heywards first solo album (1983) has a song titled "Whistle Down the Wind"—most likely in reference to the film.
The New Order song "Vanishing Point" from the album Technique (1989) refers to the film with the lyrics, "and they gave him away / like in Whistle Down the Wind / by the look on his face / he never gave in".
The films theme by Malcolm Arnold was given lyrics and recorded by The Bachelors on their No Arms Can Ever Hold You album.