When The Whales Came Review

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Growing up on the Scilly Isle of Bryher in 1914, youngsters Daniel and Gracie (Rennie and Pearce) are fascinated by the nearby island of Samson and its supposed curse. Fifty years ago, the well ran dry, the ‘menfolk’ perished and everyone else left.

They befriend the Birdman (Scofield), a mysterious old cove who craves wooden birds and who as a boy was the last to leave Samson – thus, as local lore has it, he still carries the curse. Birdman warns his new chums to stay off Samson, but of course they don’t, and bad luck returns with them: Daniel’s baby brother falls ill; Gracie’s dad, who enlisted when World War One broke out, goes missing in action; and the locals burn the Birdman’s cottage, convinced he’s a German spy. Then the whales come, hence the title, and the ensuing drama centres around the battle of wills between the locals, who want them slaughtered, and the Birdman who predicts dire consequences if they do.

It’s all unashamedly moral and sentimental, but any opening lack of pace is totally redeemed by an ending so laden with emotion that it can’t just be dismissed as mere slush – its exactly what you want to happen. And with the young leads so prominent and so strong, what we have here is a sure-fire hit with schoolkids and their parents wanting a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon out at the flicks.