Director: Bryan Forbes
Screenwriters: Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall (Based on the novel by Mary Hayley Bell)
Hayley Mills, Bernard Lee, Alan Bates, Alan Barnes, Diane Holgate & Elsie Wagstaff
“Who is it?”
A surprising film that transcends it’s Christian roots, the film is very much about the childhood struggle to understand the world they live in. Young Kathy (played by the rather brilliant Hayley Mills) finds a man staying in her barn, and when she asks him who he is, he curses “Jesus Christ”, before fainting from injuries he sustained during some kind of robbery. The young girl, however, believes him to be the son and God, and along with her two younger siblings she attempts to protect and hide him from the world of adults. The story itself is ripe for the “precious” appreciation of childhood faith, but the film delves deeper than youthful belief. It explores how children feel alienated from adults, as they seem both self-absorbed and careless to the emotions of their childhood world. This premise is set-up as one of their father’s employees has been sent to drown kittens of the family cat, against the wishes of the three kids. They save them, and keep them in the barn where they will find later their messiah. When they do find Jesus, he is a broken man, tired and injured, the children nurse him back to health knowing that only they will understand the “truth”. Their distrust of adults is understandable, and even in moments of despair when they reach out to them, they are met with idle threats and little concern. “Jesus” himself does little to help them, but he represents a symbolic bridge between the world of child and adulthood. It reveals, what I see, as a very potent source of childhood faith. The belief in an adult who is as compassionate and trusting as they are, who also holds the answers to all their questions. His presence and understandable aloofness, motivates the children to find their own answers, and come to their own conclusions about the world. Alan Bates plays the criminal on the run mistaken for the son of God, and he brings an interesting dimension to what could easily have been a thinly drawn character, with an even more thinly drawn arc. He is never quite cruel to the children, though of course, anyone taking advantage of the good will of a few children based on their belief that you are Jesus, is morally dubious. I don’t think he is transformed by the idea of God in the end, but rather the children’s love for him. Their youthful and earnest declaration of their adoration and belief forces him into a sort of personal crisis of faith and life, as he struggles with saving his own life at the risk of dashing the world of these children forever. It’s an interesting sacrifice, a simple one, but extremely sincere nonetheless. Bates makes it seem difficult and even painful, though eventually resigned, it is never an easy decision for him, which makes it even more heartfelt.