Whistle Down the Wind (film)

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Whistle Down the Wind
Whistle Down the Wind poster.jpg
Directed byBryan Forbes
Produced byRichard Attenborough
Screenplay byKeith Waterhouse
Willis Hall
Based onWhistle Down the Wind
by Mary Hayley Bell
StarringHayley Mills
Bernard Lee
Alan Bates
Music byMalcolm Arnold
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
Edited byMax Benedict
Distributed byJ. Arthur Rank Film Distributors (UK)
Pathé-America Distributing Company
Astor Pictures Corporation (USA)
Release date
20 July 1961 (World Premiere, London)
Running time
99 minutes

Whistle Down the Wind is a 1961 British film, directed by Bryan Forbes and with screenplay by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall. The film is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Mary Hayley Bell and stars her daughter, Hayley Mills. Mills was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress. In 2005 the British Film Institute included it in their list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.


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 heavily influenced in this belief by stories they have heard told at Sunday school and by an initial exclamation of "Jesus Christ!" the eldest child hears shouted in shock by the fugitive at nightfall when she accidentally discovers him taking refuge in the family barn.[2] The fugitive—initially confused as to the determination of the three Bostock children to protect him from any adult discovery—makes no attempt to correct their mistake, especially when he discovers the eldest child, Kathy, is determined to protect him at any means from discovery by the local police, despite the fact posters circulated within the town reveal that he is in fact wanted for murder.

Most of the children in the nearby small town eventually become aware that "Jesus" is living in the barn, complicating Kathy's attempt at keeping it a secret. When the news finally reaches an adult, Kathy's 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 apologizes 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 children's 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 boy's third denial, a train whistle is heard (representing Peter's 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 children's party/Last Supper. When the apprehended, Blakey is immediately frisked by police; his posture, with his 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 Lancashire villages around Burnley and Clitheroe 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.[3]

Musical adaptations[edit]

In 1984, rock group Toto adapted the film for their music video Stranger in Town. The song is on their album Isolation.

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 20 July 1961. It played there for 3 weeks ending its run on 9 August, 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

Box office[edit]

The film was popular at the box office, being the 8th most popular film at the UK box office in 1961. By 1971 it had earned a profit of over £240,000.[1] Bryan Forbes later said it was the most popular and profitable film he ever made.[3]


  • 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 Constable Wilcox
  • 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 Raymond (the teenage boy who slaps Kathy in the playground)


  1. ^ a b Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p106
  2. ^ imdb.com: Whistle Down the Wind
  3. ^ a b Bryan Forbes, A Divided Life, Mandarin, 1993 p29

External links[edit]