Two children named Gracie Jenkins and Daniel Pender are best friends living on the island of Bryher. They enjoy sailing wooden boats that they make off the numerous beaches, but the tide carries their favorite one across to a forbidden bay. This is the home of a local hermit nicknamed the Birdman, whom all the children are forbidden to go near and whom none of the adults trust. This is partly due to him being born on a nearby island named Samson which all locals avoid, as they say it is cursed. On stormy nights he goes over to Samson and can be seen sending lantern signals out to sea.
Daring to go to the Birdman’s beach, Daniel and Gracie find the missing boat on the sand with a message written in stones, left by the hermit. Daniel leaves a further message saying thank you and tells him their names. Later the Birdman leaves them a beautiful carving of a seabird and the children hide it at Gracie’s house.
Life on Bryher is hard and very rustic. The villagers survive on fishing and growing their own produce. Daniel’s father is a violent man who has to work extra hard in order to feed his large family of seven children. Gracie’s parents, Jack and Clem, are kinder; Gracie is an only child as their parents have not been able to have more children. However, her father doesn’t see school as important for Gracie in their lives as fishermen, while her mother wants her to have an education.
When the Whales Came is a 1989 British film, based on the 1985 children’s book Why the Whales Came written by Michael Morpurgo. The film is set on the fictional British island of Scylla, while the location of the book is explicitly identified as Bryher, one of the Isles of Scilly.
When the Whales Came (1989)
Directed by: Clive Rees
Starring: Paul Scofield, David Threlfall, Helen Mirren, Helen Pearce, Max Rennie, Jeremy Kemp, John Hallam, Barbara Ewing, Dexter Fletcher, Barbara Jefford, Joanna Bartholemew
Screenplay by: Michael Morpurgo
Production Design by: Bruce Grimes
Cinematography by: Robert Paynter
Film Editing by: Andrew Boulton
Costume Design by: Lindy Hemming
Music by: Christopher Gunning
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: October 20, 1989