Cult Movie: The Song Of Bernadette is still worthy of worship

The Song of Bernadette is a sombre and stately study of the power of faith
Ralph McLean

The Song Of Bernadette

TRUE representations of pure religious faith are few and far between in mainstream cinema history. When the big studios do tackle the subject, it's all too often tainted by piousness and a barely contained sense of overt melodrama that threatens to take over everything at any given moment.

However, The Song Of Bernadette is a rare exception to this general rule. A sombre and stately study of the power of faith, it's a film steeped in belief and the life-changing impact of spirituality – yet it never rams its message down your throat.

It has a slow moving, un-flashy sense of style and purpose that still enthrals despite its considerable age (it was released to cinemas in 1943) and the film still drags you into its story of faith and devotion with impressive ease.

Directed by Henry King and adapted from the best-selling historical novel by Franz Werfel, The Song Of Bernadette tells the tale of a 14-year-old peasant girl called Bernadette Soubirious (played to Oscar winning effect by Jennifer Jones) who begins seeing visions that she firmly believes to be the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France in 1858.

At first, some of the locals dismiss her claims and suggest she's a few artefacts short of a full mass – but others wholeheartedly buy into the concept.

When a spring erupts near the grotto where Bernadette first saw her visions and the water therein seems to have a miraculous healing power, the legend really kicks off.

The suspicious powers-that-be can't make up their minds and try to get her to renounce her claims, but she refuses to do so right up until her death. Years later, Bernadette is canonised as a saint and Lourdes becomes the permanent shrine to healing that we all know today.

20th Century Fox knew that the film's subject matter was bound to invoke controversy so they inserted that now famous opening line "To those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. To those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible". They needn't have bothered.

What cinema audiences were faced with in 1943 and modern viewers can contemplate today, thanks to the movie's long overdue Blu-ray release from Eureka, is a quality drama about one young girl's ultimate test of faith.

Jennifer Jones is superb throughout as the strong but much put-upon young woman whose faith is tested to its very limits. She fully deserved her recognition from the Academy and there are memorable supporting roles for great actors like Vincent Price, Lee J Cobb and Gladys Cooper to enjoy as well.

Director King, whose other credits include Love Is A Many Splendored Thing and The Snows Of Kilimanjaro, slowly unravels the story with grace and compassion, while the luscious cinematography of Arthur C Miller was also rightly rewarded with an Oscar.

The end result is that rarest of things, a faith-based film that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of whether you are a devout believer or don't have a religious bone in your body.

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