Cin­ema icon’s let­ter of praise for Wil­liam

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I was de­lighted to re­ceive a per­sonal hand­writ­ten let­ter from Ha­ley Mills in re­sponse to my pre­vi­ous Ad­ver­tiser col­umn on Walt Dis­ney’s Pollyanna.

Hay­ley wrote: “Dear Wil­liam, thank you very much for send­ing me a copy of your piece about Pollyanna.

“I es­pe­cially en­joyed the story about your much younger self mem­o­ris­ing the dia­logue of the en­tire film (what a feat!) and per­form­ing it to your neigh­bours with sat­is­fac­tory fi­nan­cial re­ward; what a shame no-one recorded it.

“Thank you also for the pho­to­graphs you in­cluded, which was very kind of you.

“I hope you are keep­ing well up there in bon­nie Scot­land. Warm­est best wishes, Hay­ley.”

“I go to pre­pare a place for you, and if I go to pre­pare a place for you I will come again” – John 13:1-3.

“If a movie isn’t en­ter­tain­ing don’t bother to watch it” – Richard Attenborou­gh.

If ever a film was able to cap­ture the in­no­cence of chil­dren it must surely have been Whis­tle Down the Wind, pro­duced in

1961 with a hand-picked cast in­clud­ing Hay­ley Mills, Bernard Lee, Alan Bates, Elsie Wagstaff and a sup­port­ing cast of kids giv­ing mem­o­rable per­for­mances in a movie now re­garded as a clas­sic of Bri­tish cin­ema.

Adapted from an in­trigu­ing 1957 novella writ­ten by Hay­ley Mills’ mother Mary Hay­ley Bell, it

is a highly orig­i­nal story.

This is the syn­op­sis of the film as it ap­peared in Sight And Sound in July 1961: “A wounded mur­derer on the run finds refuge in a dis­used barn on a re­mote farm.

“He is dis­cov­ered by three chil­dren who, in their in­no­cence, be­come con­vinced that he is Christ re­turned to us. Since he has noth­ing to lose by it, the mur­derer ac­cepts the role thrust upon him.

“The chil­dren hide him from the po­lice, pro­vide for him and nurse him back to health. In the end, un­wit­tingly, they are the cause of his be­trayal.

“The po­lice close in and the cli­max comes when he has to chose be­tween his own con­science and their faith.”

When asked what at­tracted the pro­ducer Richard Attenborou­gh, to the story he re­sponded : “The moment in a child’s life when he or she is com­pletely in­no­cent; the quest of be­ing able to cap­ture that on film with­out mawk­ish­ness was what keyed the film for me.”

The movie was even­tu­ally di­rected by Bryan Forbes and its qual­ity is ev­i­dent in ev­ery de­part­ment.

With su­perb wiz­ardry of cin­e­matog­ra­phy by Arthur Ib­bet­son, the in­ter­play with light and shadow in the scenes in the cramped stu­dio barn, con­trast with shots of the chil­dren dwarfed on the rugged Lan­cashire land­scape.

An­other ma­jor part of the film’s charm lies in the score of bril­liant com­poser Mal­colm Arnold, which fea­tures a jaunty ar­range­ment of the tra­di­tional carol We Three Kings which he hu­mor­ously links to the three chil­dren.

The mem­o­rable theme tune has be­come a clas­sic. It was whis­tled by Richard Attenborou­gh, with the phrase Whis­tle Down the Wind dat­ing to a 16th-cen­tury phrase whis­tle away, mean­ing dis­miss or cast off.

The movie also in­tro­duced two tal­ented chil­dren play­ing the younger sib­lings op­po­site Hay­ley Mills, Diane Hol­gate and Alan Barnes, who steals nearly ev­ery scene he is in.

The film is rich in Chris­tian his­tory and sym­bol­ism; the child ‘dis­ci­ples’ to­tal 12; the barn is a metaphor for the birth of Je­sus; and the birth­day party is the last sup­per where the mur­derer is be­trayed by a child ask­ing for a slice of birth­day cake for Je­sus.

Pro­duced on a shoe­string bud­get of £148,000, it made a profit of more than £240,000, mak­ing Whis­tle Down the Wind the most prof­itable film that Bryan Forbes had ever di­rected.

The pro­duc­ers did a great job in turn­ing a clas­sic lit­tle story into a great film.

One can only marvel at the vi­sion and courage of Richard Attenborou­gh and Bryan Forbes in over­com­ing the over­whelm­ing task of com­pet­ing with the Amer­i­can film in­dus­try.

Like Pollyanna, the role of Kathy in Whis­tle Down the Wind was a defin­ing one for Hay­ley Mills.

Cre­ative con­trol Key play­ers in­volved in Whis­tle Down the Wind, in­clud­ing pro­ducer Richard At­ten­burgh, left, and star Hay­ley Mills, cen­tre

Chris­tian sym­bol­ism Bring­ing bread and wine to “Je­sus” in the hay

Kind words The let­ter Wil­liam re­ceived from movie star, Ha­ley Mills

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