Holiday Movie Review: The Bishop's Wife

A marriage falling apart.  A bishop's materialistic obsession.  A neglected wife and mother. A parish in pain.

 

The angel Dudley is sent to fix all of these in the 1947 Christmas classic "The Bishop's Wife."  

 

Set in the days immediately leading up to Christmas in a New York-like city, it is beautiful in its cinematography and poignant in its story.  The acting by leads Cary Grant and Loretta Young are Oscar-worthy in a tale that doesn't quite wrap up the way you expect.

 

Julia is unhappy in her marriage to bishop Henry Brougham whose obsession with building a cathedral completely consumes him at the expense of everything and everyone in his life.  He is so focused on raising money for his monument to God that he never spends any quality time with Julia or their young daughter.  Instead, he constantly courts wealthy widows, trying to raise the $4 million (a lot of money in 1947) he needs even as his original parish, St. Timothy's, hangs in the balance of collaspe, in dire need of his attention and help.

 

In comes Dudley, an angel who performs small "miracles" like constantly refilling a bottle of brandy and magically typing Henry's sermon -- sight unseen.

 

But the real miracles performed in this film come in the way Dudley transforms the long neglected and unhappy Julia.  After Henry cancels yet another date with her, Dudley steps in and takes Julia on the town -- to the restaurant where Henry proposed, to the small shop where Julia has eyed a special bonnet, even to an outdoor skating rink in a large part indicitive of Wollman Rink in Manhattan's Central Park.  Here he shows off with an impressive display of figure skating -- obvious special effects performed through skating professionals.

 

It wins Julia's heart, deeply tempting Dudley who clearly, by the end of the film, is starting to fall in love with her.

 

This evokes an intense jealousy inside Henry -- the sort of jealousy that often rekindles marriages.

 

It works -- without Dudley so much as kissing Julia.

 

The bishop's wife is not an obvious holiday film and not the sort of predictable fare we normally watch over the holiday season.  But it is a poignant tale all the more enjoyable because we don't know where it will go next.  The film offers us no clean cut ending nor happily ever after.  But in taking us on this journey, it teaches us that miracles are not the big gradiose things -- but the small transformations that carry us into new pathways and help us, in the end, be better citizens of our world. 

 

 

Laurel A. Rockefeller, author

The Great Succession Crisis

E-Book ISBN: 9781476243344
Print book ISBN: 978-1479144808

 

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