Whistle Down the Wind (film)

Whistle Down the Wind is a 1961 British crime film directed by Bryan Forbes, and adapted by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall from the 1959 novel of the same name by Mary Hayley Bell. The film stars her daughter, Hayley Mills, who 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.

Whistle Down the Wind
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
Beaver Pictures
Allied Film Makers
Distributed byJ. Arthur Rank Film Distributors
Release date
  • 20 July 1961 (1961-07-20) (London)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


The plot follows the lives of three Lancashire farm children who discover a bearded fugitive (the Man/Arthur Blakey) hiding in their barn and mistake him for Jesus Christ. They come to this conclusion because of their Sunday School stories and Blakey's shocked exclamation of 'Jesus Christ!' when the eldest child accidentally discovers him.[2] Blakey—initially confused about why the three Bostock children are eager to protect him from adult discovery—makes no attempt to correct their mistake, especially when he discovers the eldest child, Kathy, is determined to keep him hidden from the local police, despite the posters circulating in the nearby town that reveal he is wanted for murder.

Most of the children in the area eventually find out that Blakey/'Jesus' is living in the Bostocks' barn, complicating Kathy's task. When the secret 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 now in on the secret, converge on the barn. Convinced that she has failed Jesus, Kathy sneaks behind the barn and apologizes to Blakey for being unable to protect him. He forgives her and, after much prompting from her, promises she will see him again. Resigned to his fate, Blakey tosses his handgun out 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.


  • Hayley Mills as Kathy Bostock
  • Bernard Lee as Mr. Bostock
  • Alan Bates as the Man (Arthur Blakey)
  • Diane Holgate as Nan Bostock
  • Alan Barnes as Charles Bostock
  • 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
  • Roy Holder as Jackie
  • Barry Dean as Raymond (the teenage boy who slaps Kathy in the playground)


The novel was published in 1959. Mary Bell based the three children on her own children, including Hayley Mills.[3]

The novel was turned into a stage play. Film rights were bought by Bryan Forbes and Richard Attenborough, who had moved into film production. They were friends of John Mills and Mary Bell and secured Hayley Mills to play the lead. She had just made Pollyanna for Disney.[4]

Forbes was so taken with the material that he wanted to write the script and direct. However the Millses would not approve him. This upset Forbes, who withdrew himself from the project. Attenborough hired Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall to write the script and Guy Green to direct. It was Waterhouse and Hall who decided to relocate the book's setting from Kent to Lancashire. Weeks before filming was to start Guy Green pulled out of the film, to an accept an offer at MGM. Attenborough suggested that Forbes direct, but John Mills and Mary wanted Attenborough to do it. Attenborough had no ambitions towards directing then, and knew how badly Forbes wanted the job so he persuaded the Millses to listen to a pitch from Forbes as to how he would do it. The pitch was successful and they gave their approval.[5][6]

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 film credits. The secret comes out at the end of a children's party/Last Supper. When apprehended, Blakey is immediately frisked by police; his arms outstretched at his sides are a clear reference to the Crucifixion.

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; children from Chatburn Primary School played the 'disciples'. The theme music by Malcolm Arnold became a classic.

Bryan Forbes put the budget at £162,000, although other sources say it was lower.[7]


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

By September 1961 Rank were reporting the film was "exceeding expectations" commercially.[8] The film was the 8th most popular film at the UK box office in 1961. Others popular at the time included Swiss Family Robinson, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Carry on Regardless, The Rebel and The Long and the Short and the Tall.[9]

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.[7]

Musical adaptations

In 1984, rock group Toto used the plot of the movie for their music video 'Stranger in Town'. The song is on their album Isolation.

In the late 1980s, Russell Labey and Richard Taylor adapted the film into a musical of the same name for the National Youth Music Theatre.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman later created a more commercial adaptation. Highlight songs from their musical version are 'Vaults of Heaven', 'Whistle Down the Wind', and 'No Matter What', which became a very successful Boyzone hit.


  1. Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p. 106
  2. imdb.com: Whistle Down the Wind
  3. ON THE TRAIL OF A FILM COMET CALLED HAYLEY New York Times 14 Jan 1962: X9.
  4. THE FABULOUS MILLS FAMILY Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 30 Oct 1960: b24.
  5. Attenborough, Richard (2009). Entirely up to you, darling. Windsor. p. 345-347.
  6. BRITAIN'S SCREEN SCENEcBy STEPHEN WATTS. New York Times (23 Apr 1961: 129.
  7. Bryan Forbes, A Divided Life, Mandarin, 1993 p. 29
  9. 7 BRITISH FILMS IN THE TOP 12: Overseas earnings up Our own Reporter. The Guardian 21 June 1962: 16.
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