Never mind the Hallmark movies, if you want a great Christmas film, you can’t go wrong with this. Starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young, “The Bishop’s Wife” involves Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) who becomes obsessed with the idea of building a cathedral. This needs funds, and his main donor is a self-absorbed ruch woman who wants to call the shots on how it should be done. The bishop finds himself making questionable compromises in order to carry out his dream, and loses sight of other important issues including his own wife. Feeling he has lost sight of his way and unsure how to proceed, Henry prays for guidance. He gets it in the form of an angel called Dudley (Cary Grant.)
I love this film for a number of different reasons. To start with, it has a smashing cast. Grant as the angel is as charming, witty and funny as Cary Grant can be, and is a real pleasure to watch. David Niven is excellent as a righteous man who’s lost his way, and Loretta Young is fabulous as Henry’s delightful wife Julia. Her character is delightful, and not in a way that might be cloying and sentimental. The writing and acting gives us a picture of a genuinely nice, loving, wonderful human being. The supporting cast include Elsa Lanchester and Monty Woolley, and every character is excellently portrayed.
Director Henry Koster did a superb job maintaining the charm and beauty of this film. His direction of the actors helps to maintain the illusion that an angel is amongst them and magic is happening. He uses lighting to great effect, especially with Niven’s character as he struggles with his demons (including jealousy of Dudley as Henry starts to wonder if the angel is stealing his wife!) Gradual illumination comes upon Henry as he starts to understand what he should be doing. The miraculous is entwined so well with the daily events that they never take over. Dudley is not a showy angel, and his gifts of encouragement and discernment are of more weight than any supernatural act. The script, written by Robert Sherwood and Leonard Bercovici, maintain this joy and charm. All elements work together to frame this delightful story.
The story is very resonant with many of us. I think it is very relateable to be plodding along in a particular direction, convinced you are heading the right way, only to discover that you are completely lost. When that happens, how many of us long for a signpost – exit on the right, go back the way you came. There are many decisions in life and many mistakes to be made. God might not send us an angel, but He’ll certainly guide us if we ask.
The Christmas setting may be incidental, and certainly this story could be told at any time of the year. But the narrative entwines with Christmas expertly to remind us that this time of the year might actually be a good time to reflect on where our priorities lie, and whether they are where they ought to be. The film finishes with Henry’s sermon which sums up exactly what the film has been talking about, where our hearts should be.
Go watch “The Bishop’s Wife”, for a fabulous movie and a full dose of the magic and spirit of Christmas.
Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled… all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most… and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.