I first heard about “The Bishop’s Wife” during a sermon a friend gave one Advent. Paul said how it was his favorite Christmas film and how he and his wife watched it each year. He also said something like, “And if you’re going to have an angel show up to answer your prayers, wouldn’t you want him to look just like Cary Grant?”
I was instantly hooked, and Melissa and I watched it that year. We hoped it would be one of those films we watch every year, like “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That thought got away from me, and my Advent/Christmas season always got busy. I haven’t watched it since that first time, nearly 8 years ago.
This 1947 Christmas Classic centers on Henry Broughman—played by David Niven—the new Episcopal bishop who wants to build a glorious cathedral. Loretta Young is Julia Broughman, the Bishop’s wife, who has seen the life she enjoyed while her husband had been a parish priest slowly fade away. Cary Grant is the angel Dudley who appears as the answer to both the Bishop’s and Julia’s prayers.
Dudley’s arrival is marked by a host of sudden miraculous events including Christmas shopping being done in a matter of a few hours, wine not running out nor causing inebriation, and, my favorite, people being able to ice skate like pros. It’s just heavenly.
But the bishop is not having much of it. While Dudley is explained away as the bishop’s new assistant, the bishop himself feels more and more confined as he tries to raise funds. His interactions with a wealthy widow named Mrs. Hamilton make the hairs on this priest’s neck rise, especially when she reminds Bishop Henry that she got him elected in order to get her way when they built the new cathedral. And how hard could it be to make the statue of St. George look like her late husband also named George? Surely people have no idea what the saint actually looked like.
In the midst of a day out with Julia, Dudley, in response to a comment about how hard things had become, remarked: “Everything will be alright if only people would act like human beings.” Wherever Dudley goes he brings joy and happiness. Grant lights up the screen and he carries this wonderful film. But I can’t help but wonder if there is too much attention paid to the good Bishop’s wife by Dudley. This is the one thing that bothered me in watching this film again. Were Dudley’s affections and attention over the line? Was he too much of a player? I’ll let you decide.
I won’t spoil how the film ends because I bet many of you haven’t seen it (although I might steal some of the imagery from the sermon the bishop gives). In terms of Bethlehem stars, if the film shows an understanding of the true meaning of Christmas about peace and joy and not material goods, I have to give it …
If Dudley hadn’t been too friendly this would have garnered 5 Bethlehem Stars. I bet some of my Episcopal friends might take issue with me; the number of films showing Episcopal clergy are few and far between. In any event, this should be a classic Christmas film that brings joy to many, and if you haven’t seen it, you really should this Christmas season.