The Bells at Christmas

Every so often a film comes along that not only entertains but also really makes you think, to the extent that you know it will change your life forever.

Mandy is seven years old. She lives with her parents, Ruth and Dave Bell and her 10-year-old brother, Billy. The film opens with the family at their local church, on the Sunday before Christmas. The vicar is giving his sermon, talking about this being the season of peace, love and goodwill.

When the family sit down to the Christmas meal, Amy and Billy are both still enthusing about the ducks their father took them to feed in the pond in the park, while Ruth prepared the food. Mandy has a concerned, puzzled look on her face and asks her mother, “Does the turkey have to be killed, so that we can eat it?”. When her mother replies yes, Mandy pushes her plate away, declaring that she doesn’t want to eat turkey any more.

The following Sunday, when the Bell family go back to church and the minister starts preaching to his ‘flock’ again, Mandy interrupts him and makes a little speech of her own. The congregation and the minister are taken aback, to say the least. Some clap, others appear disapproving and shocked. The minister flusters.

Various scenes then follow of the local then the national media picking up on the story, including interviews with Mandy.

Billy finds his own classmates asking questions about his sister, who has quickly gone from not eating turkey to realizing that she doesn’t want to eat any other animals either.

While the debate continues in the media and beyond, much of the film focuses on how Mandy and some of the other children who have made the same decision to stop eating “their friends” come to such a moral decision in those so young, while those so much older and supposedly wiser, are able to live in denial about the horrors that they are condoning without even questioning every day of their lives, by their choice of diet and lifestyle.

Nine-year-old Amy Rogers gives a captivating performance as Mandy, in her first screen role and 11-year-old Phil Harvey, who plays Billy, also displays considerable acting talent.

There are many wonderfully funny and warm scenes, such as when Aaron Lewis, who is Jewish and Billy’s best friend at school, starts questioning his parents about how he has been taught that the Torah says that it’s a sin to be cruel to animals and so surely killing and eating them is a sin. Miriam and Joshua, who are semi-Orthodox, have some difficulty in providing any answers that satisfy Aaron, as do the Christian parents who struggle to explain how Jesus, the “Prince of Peace”, would approve of such cruelty to God’s creatures. The few children who were already vegetarian, before Mandy’s speech in church, give Mandy and Billy their support.

The Bells at Christmas has many funny scenes, combined with others so moving that director, Michael Lee, who also wrote the script, has the rare ability to cause chuckling one minute and being close to tears or crying the next.

A combination of an exceptionally clever and thought-provoking script, assured direction and fine acting from adults and children alike, makes for an outstanding film that will have those who see it really seriously thinking, probably for the first time in their lives, about the issues it raises long after they have left the cinema.

A long overdue and much needed reality check, Michael Lee’s The Bells at Christmas is a tour de force.

By Sandra Busell

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