Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • U
  • Drama
  • 1961
  • 98 mins

Whistle Down the Wind

Whistle Down the Wind


Alan Bates and Hayley Mills star in this enduring childhood fable. Three Lancashire children find a criminal hiding out in their barn and come to believe he's Jesus Christ


Among the most enduring - and most unusual - post-war British children's dramas, Whistle Down The Wind catches its star Hayley Mills at the peak of her powers.

Adapted by Keith Waterhouse from a story by Mills' mother, Mary Hayley Bell, it's neither a character study nor a coming-of-age tale. Rather it's a sort of parable about the power and limits of religious faith, and the displacement of childhood certainty with doubt.

The story centres on three rural Lancashire kids who find a mysterious stranger (Bates) asleep in their barn. The eldest, Kathy (Mills), asks him who he is. His first words to her - "Jesus Christ!" - are misunderstood and Kathy becomes convinced that the man, a murderer on the run from the police, is the Messiah. Slowly she weaves an entire mythology around him until all he says and does is loaded with religious significance.

Though just four years into her acting career, Mills give a performance that is quiet but effortlessly natural. There's little that's mawkish or manipulative in Bryan Forbes' direction, and the bleak Lancashire landscapes and haunting score contribute to the poignant tone. Alan Bates successfully negotiates a difficult role by underplaying things and the supporting kids, none of whom had acted before, are engaging and unaffected.

However, there's also a vagueness about what's being signified here. In early scenes there's a sprinkling of irony as the children act out their favourite Bible stories and ponder their extraordinary luck. When they eventually discover the man's true identity - and as a result lead the police to his hide-out - Kathy remains unchanged by the experience; her capacity for belief, the conclusion suggests, is endless and unshakeable.

At key moments there's implied criticism of an established church that's evasive, hypocritical and officious, and Forbes very effectively evokes the children's private world. However it's Kathy's little brother (Barnes) who learns the most difficult lesson, in the process providing a clue to the underlying message. "'T'ain't Jesus," is his bitter assessment of the man they thought might save them. "He's just some fella."

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Bernard Lee, Alan Barnes, Hayley Mills, Alan Bates, Diane Holgate
  • Director: Bryan Forbes
  • Writer: Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall
  • Producer: Richard Attenborough
  • Photographer: Arthur Ibbetson
  • Composer: Malcolm Arnold

In a nutshell

Haunting, thought-provoking fable about faith, expertly acted by all, and executed with plenty of poignancy, irony and wit.

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4


    Mark Strong is a detective who uses his ability to access people's memories to determine the motives of a troubled girl.

  • Film4

    Parental Guidance

    Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei star in Andy Fickman's family comedy.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    BIFA brings 2015 nominated films to cinemas

    BIFA-nominated films including the Film4-backed 45 Years, The Lobster, Macbeth, Amy and Ex Machina will be available in cinemas nationwide from 23 November in a special public screenings event. The

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Film4-backed films receive 41 nominations at the BIFAs

    Film4 has received a total of 41 nominations for the films it has backed at this year¿s British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs), with the nomination lists for the Best British Film and Best Director a

Register with

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register