Classic Movie ReviewsMovie ReviewsClassic Review: The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

leandromatos1981January 10, 2019

A charming but somewhat forgotten Christmas movie.

Synopsis: An angel in human form enters the life of a bishop in order to help him build a new cathedral and repair his fractured marriage. (IMDB)

Starring: Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven

Writers: Robert E. Sherwood and Leonardo Bercovici

Director:  Henry Koster

Rating: G (Canada)

Running Time: 109mins


Henry Brougham (Niven) is a bishop who has been working for months on the plans to build a new cathedral in his town. He hopes a wealthy widow named Mrs. Hamilton (Gladys Cooper) will sponsor the construction and while he tries desperately to makes things happen his way, he ends up distancing himself from his family and his beliefs. But an angel called Dudley (Grant) shows up to help to put his life back on track. Dudley charms everyone around him, especially Henry’s wife, Julia (Young). Henry starts fearing the real reason Dudley is there is to replace him and he becomes more and more paranoid about the whole situation.

The Bishop’s Wife is a delicious Christmas movie. It doesn’t have the popularity of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street and it is a shame since it’s quite charming. It carries the holiday movie tradition of investing in the story of a guy discovering (or rediscovering, in this case) the best parts of himself. Henry is lost in his own faith, he doesn’t believe in himself anymore and that insecurity unbalances all his relations, especially the one with his wife. Dudley is there to help him get back on his feet and understands that yes, he can achieve all he wishes for.

Comparing angels, It’s a Wonderful Life is indeed a better, more well-rounded film, but there’s a lot of warm-hearted moments in this one.  Especially with Grant playing the angel with such verve and charm. Dudley always has a twinkle in his eyes; he’s totally enjoying his duties on Earth. And that puts a smile on our faces in a lot of moments. The weakest link is Young, never a very accomplished performer who looks stiff in some moments. She is saved because she is surrounded but a group of great actors who deliver everything they are asked for; Niven puts the right amount of weight on the shoulders of this bishop without turning the story and his anguish too heavy for the holidays; Elsa Lanchester, Monty Wooley, James Gleason, and Cooper as Matilda, Professor Wutheridge, Sylvester, and Mrs. Hamilton respectively all contribute with excellence in their small parts. The whole ensemble, creating a cohesive and believable environment helped to turn this story in such a fun experience.

Koster was an experienced director and he did the best with the script. It may not be laugh out loud funny but it will surely put a smile on your face. He manages to infuse the film with just the right amount of sadness, again, with the help of a smart script, featuring a fair share of inspiring moments such as the skating sequence or the scenes with Professor Wutheridge. The Bishop’s Wife is a feel-good movie for sure, but it has its grey areas, which only makes it more interesting, escaping the single tone it could so easily fall for.

Give a chance to The Bishop’s Wife. It won’t change your life but will bring a little bit of joy to your day.

Score: 7/10

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