Whistle Down the Wind is a 1961 British film, directed by Bryan Forbes, screenplay by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, from the novel by Mary Hayley Bell.
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 by the children. The fugitive makes no attempt to correct their mistake, especially when he discovers the eldest child, “Kathy,” is determined to protect him from discovery by the local police.
Most of the children in the nearby town eventually become aware that “Jesus” is living in the barn, exasperating 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 inhabitants of the town, including perhaps 100 children, converge on the barn. Convinced that she has let Jesus down, Kathy sneaks behind the structure and apologizes to Blakey that she could 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 the barn door and surrenders to the police.
Once Blakey is taken away and the crowd disperses, Kathy is approached by two young children who ask to see Jesus. She tells them that they missed him this time, but he will be back.
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 are symbolic to 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 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 film, played the man in the barn. Local schoolchildren from the villages around Clitheroe, Lancashire 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.
In the late 1990s, Whistle Down The Wind was adapted into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman. Highlight songs from the musical are "No Matter What" (which became a very successful single when released by Boyzone), "Whistle Down The Wind" and "Vaults of Heaven".