Set in the 1860’s at the start of the American Civil War, I Heard the Bells tells the story of America’s much loved poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Stephen Atherholt). Henry is happily married to his wife, Frances (Franny) (Rachel Day Hughes), and lives a seemingly idyllic life with his 5 children. He is well known and admired for his poetry throughout the country. His oldest son, Charley (Jonathan Blair), wants to go and fight in the war but at 17 he needs his father’s permission. Henry refuses to give permission and Frances makes Henry promise that he’ll never allow their sons to fight.
Tragedy occurs, however, when Frances’s dress catches on fire and Henry is unable to save her. He is badly burned in the process. After his wife’s death, Henry withdraws from life and vows to never write again. Charley also feels the loss of his mother greatly and loses his faith in God. Subsequently, he is compelled to go to war and forges his father’s signature to do so. Through Henry’s connections, he is able to protect Charley from the front line, but Charley is eventually shot and wounded in the war. Charley is taken by his comrades into a destroyed church, and is lying on a pew when he sees the church bell on the floor next to him. Close to death, Charley hears the bells ringing loudly, which gives him the hope he needs to cling to life. Henry writes the hymn ‘I Heard the Bells’ as a result.
The American Civil War; slavery; death; tragedy; hope and faith in god
I Heard the Bells has some violence. For example:
- Frances walks through a room and accidentally knocks over a candle, which sets on fire her flowing dress. This scene is quite intense as she screams for Henry who is asleep in the next room. Although briefly shown, Henry rolls on top of her to extinguish the fire, suffering terrible burns to his hands and face. Frances dies as a result of her burns.
- Scenes of war show soldiers firing rifles and cannons.
- Charley and Henry have a heated argument at the dinner table. The other children cry.
- Henry and some other men go duck shooting.
- Two confederate soldiers with rifles hide behind the church as Charley approaches on horseback. Shots are heard and Charley is seen wounded. He has blood on his face and is unable to move.
I Heard the Bells has some sexual references. For example, Henry and Frances dance closely together and kiss.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
I Heard the Bells has some substance use. For example:
- Henry takes ether for his pain.
- One of the soldiers smokes a pipe.
Nudity and sexual activity
There’s no nudity and sexual activity in I Heard the Bells.
There’s no product placement in I Heard the Bells.
There’s no coarse language in I Heard the Bells.
Ideas to discuss with your children
I Heard the Bells is an inspirational movie about hope and faith. Henry Longfellow’s faith is sorely tested when he loses his most beloved wife, Frances. The film shows the despair of loss of life but also the hope that people live on through their work and deeds. It is a very emotional and intense film, best suited for families with older children.
These are the main messages from I Heard the Bells:
- People live on through their legacy.
- There is hope after death.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include the importance of family, hope and faith, and caring and compassion.
I Heard the Bells could also give you the chance to discuss with your children the reasons for the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery.