Whistle Downham Wind

 

I've watched Whistle Down the Wind, a classic British film if e’er there was one, produced in 1961. Interestingly, it was filmed in Downham, the village next-but-one to our chapel. Local children from Burnley and Clitheroe were used as extras; the broad Lancashire accents are a delight to hear and the scripting is superb. Several times I rewound and replayed that I might chuckle a second time:

Farmer Bostock, (fitting his collar with Dolly’s help): “I can’t breathe in it.”

Dolly: “No. I expect you’ll get beer past it, though.”

Having rescued some kittens from drowning, the Bostock children resolve to hide them in their father’s barn. Having found them a dry box, they decide to allocate names:

Charles: “I’m going to call mine Spider.”

Nan: “You can’t call a cat Spider.”

Charles: “I can call it anything I like.”

Nan: “You’re daft, you are. You’re soft in yer head.”

They then discuss the words of a Salvation Army woman, whose open-air preaching upon ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ begins an early scene in Downham village. She advises young Charles to trust in Jesus- for himself and his kitten. Kathy, the eldest sibling, pours scorn on this idea: 

Charles: “She knows because she lives in his house.”

Kathy: “How can she when he’s dead.”

Nan: “Oh, our Kathy!”

Charles: “You just wait ’til Jesus comes and gets yeh!” 

The children then look about the barn ominously, scared they’ve upset Jesus. The next day, Kathy comes to the barn to find a bearded man laying in the straw. This, she surmises, is Jesus, come to correct her lack of faith. In fact, it’s Arthur Blakey, a dangerous criminal on the run. 

I’ll not spoil the film by totally detailing the plot; do watch it, it’s worth 99 minutes of anyone’s time. You’ll certainly be delighted by the children’s homespun observations. Having concluded that Jesus Christ lives on their farm, one remarks 

“I’m glad he came to our barn, aren’t you? He could’ve gone to Jacky Greenwood’s”

On a return trip from Sunday school, Charles asks:

“It’s stopped raining. Do you think he [Jesus} stopped it Kathy?”

“He’s can do anything.”

“Can he make me a chocolate cake for my birthday?”

“Miss Lodge [the Sunday School teacher] says we can only ask him for love and not for ‘things’.”

“She talks out of the back of ‘er neck she does.”

Later on, when Spider the kitten dies, despite having requested ‘Jesus’ to save it, Kathy and Charles make enquiries with the local vicar. He waffles and splutters, eventually warming to his favourite theme of young people stealing his church’s roof-lead. On their departure, Charles bluntly summarises the cleric’s answer:

“He doesn’t know, does he?”

The director deliberately plays on the religious theme; the children mimic the wise men bringing gifts to the barn and a playground bully forces the children to deny that Christ was ever present. Having done so three times, a passing train whistles by, like a modern cockcrow. 

Charm and entertainment aside, the film got me thinking. Throughout, it’s the children who believe their guest is Jesus, while adults are ignorant of him or seek to arrest him and take him away. Calling to mind the words of the real Jesus in Mark 10, that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”, the children are really more spiritually aware that their wiser and older superiors. The vicar and Sunday school teacher are quite obstructive and the Salvationist at the film’s start is little better. 

On the other hand, it calls us to guard against false Christs. Jesus warned in Matthew 24:

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it…Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 

Arthur Blakey was a murderer on the run, hunted by police. He wields a handgun, eventually being caught by a large police search party. Kathy, for all her faith and sincerity, had helped to arm and succour a dangerous villain.

Come to Christ as a child, but make sure it’s the real One, and not one manufactured in our heads.  

This photograph credit: The Phrases Finder