Once upon a time, between 1945 and 1963, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association presented one of their Golden Globe trophies to the "Best Film Promoting International Understanding". Among the titles accorded this honour are: The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Hasty Heart, Little Boy Lost, The Diary of Anne Frank, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, To Kill a Mockingbird and Lillies of the Field.
Philip Needs and Loretta Parry
Michael and Rachel
Loretta Parry and Philip Needs play 7-year-olds Rachel Mathias and Michael O'Malley. Their introduction is a rocky one, but quickly the two children become inseparable playmates, welcome in each others homes. It's probably just as well that Mike doesn't overhear his mother's (Kathleen Byron, Black Narcissus) comment that Rachel doesn't seem Jewish or that Rachel doesn't hear her mother opine that in 10 or so years when Rachel is ready for a steady beau that she finds a "nice Jewish boy".
Religion becomes a question at the beginning of the children's relationship when Michael braves the shop of mean old Mr. Pritchard (Finlay Currie, I Know Where I'm Going!) to get the newspaper Rachel was sent out to purchase.
Rachel: Was that magic you did?
Rachel: Before you went in.
Mike: Oh, that's the sign of the cross. We're Catholic.
Rachel: Oh, we're Jewish.
Mike: We've got a Jewish boy in our class. He swapped me a water pistol for a space gun.
It is a time some of us may remember when parents would kick kids out of the house in the morning and not expect them back until dark. Rachel and Mike fix up a work shed on an abandoned estate as their playhouse and all is right with the world until Rachel's father gets a work promotion which entails a move for the family. The children decide to become blood brothers, as they have seen on television, giving them an unbreakable bond.
Philip Needs, Rachel Parry and Sybil Thorndyke
Mike, Rachel and Lady Caroline
Rachel thinks that the blood brother ceremony is similar to getting married and when people get married they go on a holiday. They decide to go to London to visit the Queen on the chance she might invite them in for tea. They don't meet the Queen, but a friendly Peer (Sybil Thorndyke, Stage Fright) who does invite them to tea and to play with her corgies, once assured their parents don't expect the children home until evening. It is a sunny memory for all, but things are about to get dark.
Mike's pal Harry is fed up with Mike ignoring the boys for Rachel's sake.
Harry: Mike, we're going to the pictures. Coming?
Mike: Shakes head.
Harry: Always out with that Rachel Mathias, aren't you? You're sweet on her.
Harry: My dad doesn't like Jews.
Mike: Why not?
Harry: You know they killed Christ.
Mike: She wouldn't.
Harry: Of course. They crucified him.
Mike: The Jews?
Harry: That's what I said. Funny you not knowing that. I suppose it's because you're a Catholic. My dad doesn't like Catholics either.
Derek Sydney and John Gregson
Rabbi Benjamin and Father Timothy
When Mike confronts Rachel with this terrible truth, she is indignant. She never murdered anybody. She never even heard of him. Mike says they can't be friends any more as it is a sin and God wouldn't like it. Rachel wonders if their blood brother bond isn't stronger than God. Mike devises a terrible and frightening test to discover which is stronger. Mike will go to the synagogue and Rachel must attend Mass. If they are not struck dead then they know their bond is stronger than God. The scenes in the Houses of Worship ache with the fear and confusion of the children. The unspoken understanding of the rabbi to Michael, and Rachel's eventual calm in the church are quietly emotional scenes.
The children are emboldened by their victory. They can't imagine they were ever afraid of anything. They even face the horrible Mr. Pritchard in his store as they prepare for their next adventure, sailing to Africa. The adventure places the children in physical danger and precipitates a crisis of faith for Mike. The crisis is dealt with sincerely and honestly by Mike's parish priest Father Tim (John Gregson, Genevieve).
An award-winning film about religious prejudice could be heavy-going stuff, but that is not the case with Hand in Hand. It is a forthright and genuine look at the world through the minds and hearts of 7-year-old children. Minds which are a mix of certainty and questions. I believe many of us will see our younger selves in the performances of Loretta Parry and Philip Needs. Perhaps, if we are lucky, we will see some of ourselves in the adults who offer kindness and guidance to the youngsters.