‘The Bishop’s Wife’ (1947) Review

With plans to build a grand cathedral, Bishop Henry Brougham is having trouble getting the proper financing. It’s affecting his marriage to his wife Julia, so he prays to God for some help. Shortly after, a man named Dudley appears, claiming to be an angel sent to help Henry find his way. Dudley’s presence charms everyone, including Julia, but Henry is skeptical of Dudley and is not convinced that Dudley’s motives are as pure as he claims.

Reading that Cary Grant was originally set to play the Bishop was baffling to me and honestly, I’m relieved that he ended up in the role of Dudley. I find David Niven to be a fine actor and he played Henry wonderfully, but it’s the charming, slightly mischievous Dudley that is the real star of the movie. It’s certainly the meatier role and Cary Grant carries the charisma needed to make Dudley so appealing to… well, just about everyone. Loretta Young is just as wonderful as Henry’s long-suffering wife, Julia. She comes alive when she’s with Dudley, so much so that it wouldn’t have been surprising at all had she chosen to run off with him in the end – and could you have blamed her?

What amused me so much about this film is that while watching it, I seriously began to question if Dudley was, in fact, an angel. Perhaps Henry’s prayer had been answered by, um, something down below? Because yes, Dudley is handsome and charismatic and performs a few very subtle miracles, but there was an edge to him as well, especially when provoking Henry. He’s there to help Henry in his struggles, yet he spends most of the film with Henry’s wife, being exactly the kind of man that Julia wished her husband would be (again).

He playfully taunts Henry as well, even though it’s quite clear that Henry is not pleased with the amount of time the angel is spending with his wife. It certainly made for an interesting situation but you can’t tell me that Dudley is all tenderness and kindness when he’s so obviously falling for the Bishop’s wife. I suppose it’s possible I completely misread the situation, but that’s just how I felt walking away from the movie.

It really is a lovely film with plenty of humor, and I can see why people enjoy watching it around Christmas. It’s a movie that speaks to one’s faith and I don’t necessarily mean religious faith. Yes, Henry is a Bishop looking to build a large Cathedral… he prays to God for guidance. And guidance comes in the form of an angel (… right?) but it’s not to show Henry the way to money and prominence. It’s to show him what he has in front of him in the form of his old church, his wife, and his daughter.

Dudley performs a few angelic miracles over the course of the film but except for maybe one, I don’t think any of them were really necessary. He could very easily just be a man, interjecting himself in the Bishop’s life to beguile those around him until Henry finally comes to his senses. But I’m probably thinking too much about it. At the end of the day, The Bishop’s Wife is a heartwarming holiday film that I would definitely recommend watching around this time of year.

Author: Romona Comet

"I'm probably watching a rom-com right now."