When The Whales Came is a slight story beautifully dressed to give the appearance of more substance. Performances, direction and design are all first-rate, but there is the overwhelming sensation that there is a lot less there then meets the eye.
Film [from the novel Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo] opens on the island of Samson in the Scilly Isles in 1844 where locals leave the island they believe cursed. Then in 1914 on the neighbouring island of Bryher youngsters Daniel (Max Rennie) and Gracie (Helen Pearce) play on the beach, watched by the mysterious Birdman (Paul Scofield).
Though warned against Birdman by other villagers they make friends with him and he warns them about never going to Samson. When a tusked whale (a narwhal) is beached on the shore it seems the curse of Samson will strike Bryher.
Paul Scofield’s portrayal of the deaf Birdman has the quality of sadness and pride that only he can give a role. Most endearing performance is by radiant young Pearce. A non-actor, she is a resident of Bryher (where pic is set) and was only found when she turned up for work as an extra.