Directed by Philip Leacock with a screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart (The Philadelphia Story (1940)) that was based a play by Roger MacDougall (The Man in the White Suit (1951)) this exceptional British (comedy) drama exceeds expectations regardless of its rather simple “solution” to a complex political problem. It’s one of the better boarding school movies I’ve seen with a terrific cast of young actors whose performances are entirely credible. It’s eventually revealed that frustrated by their parents’ lack of progress on an issue of the day these committed intelligent youngsters execute their own plan to make a powerful symbolic gesture of hope that earns their initially disapproving elders’ respect. Another strength of the story is the very real (troubled marriage) relationship between John (John Mills) Hampden a pacifist and his wife Stella (Yvonne Mitchell) whose three boys are intimately involved in the secret plot. Alastair Sim plays Dr. Skillingworth the proud headmaster at the boarding school; Colin Gordon plays Deeson a nosy reporter that learns of the boys’ plot. Marie Lohr plays Stella Hampden the boys’ loyal faithful grandmother.
Ironically the mastermind behind the plot appropriately named Icarus is never seen in the film. His brothers the oldest Max (Andrew Ray) and youngest Johnny (Peter Asher) go along on the secret mission while L.W. (nicknamed for the “long wave” hair) Daventry (Jeremy Spenser) Paton (Nicholas Edmett) Potter (Christopher Ridley) and Warren (Sean Barrett) among others “hold down the fort” and otherwise occupy the adults until the Hampden boys can accomplish the task. Colin Freear appears briefly as Dr. Skillington’s son Richard who’s kept in the dark by the other boys because it’s thought that he’s “rat fink” spy who might give away their secret.
Several themes including adult hypocrisy youthful idealism and freedom of the press are also contained within what ultimately provides a time capsule of the Cold War era and the quest for peace. In an act which should sound familiar to those who remember when West German student Mathias Rust flew a small plane from Hamburg to Moscow landing in Red Square near the Kremlin some twenty years ago the fictional Hampden boys steal a plane in attempt to fly it to a peace conference in Vienna (on the other side of the Swiss Alps) while their classmates execute a well planned misinformation campaign to confuse and befuddle their parents and school’s officials. Mr. & Mrs. Hampden’s marital woes Dr. Skillingworth’s admiration for his students’ capabilities (& Icarus’s genius) and Deeson’s prying which leads to unwanted publicity more than satisfactorily fill in the gaps of this thought provoking intelligent movie.