Scientists discovers that six children from six different places in the world each have superhuman intelligence to such extent that they've even developed psychic powers. The children are flown to London to be studied, but they each escape their embassy and barricade themselves in a church which the military besieges. Is there a way to resolve this stand off peacefully, and if not, what then?
Directed by: Anton Leader
. Starring: Ian Hendry
, Alan Badel
, Barbara Ferris
, Alfred Burke
, Sheila Allen
, Ralph Michael
, Patrick Wymark
, Martin Miller
, Harold Goldblatt
, Patrick White
, André Mikhelson
, Bessie Love
, Clive Powell
. Music by: Ron Goodwin
"Children of the Damned" is often regarded as a sequel to "Village of the Damned" from three years earlier, and was officially described as a sequel to John Wyndham's "The Midwich Cuckoos", the novel upon which the original film was based. The film's premise is basically similar to that of "Village of the Damned", that of super-intelligent children being born to otherwise normal parents. Whereas the children in the earlier film were all born in one small English village, those in "Children of the Damned" are from different parts of the world- Britain, America, Russia, China, India and Africa. (As the film was made at the height of the Cold War, a year after the Cuban missile crisis, this list of countries had obvious political significance).
Although the children are super-intelligent, they do not seem to show any normal human emotion. They rarely speak to outsiders, although they can communicate among themselves by telepathy. Like the children in the earlier film, they also have the power to control the minds of others. The six children are brought to London, so that they can be studied by scientists, where their presence leads to much discussion not only among the scientists but also among the British authorities. The Government send Colin Webster, an intelligence agent, to remove the British child, Paul, ostensibly to secure his safety but in reality so that his powers can be exploited by the British defence industry. The other governments involved have similar plans for their own children. The children, however, succeed in escaping from their respective embassies and take refuge in a disused London church. (The now-ruined church of St-Dunstan-in-the-East was used for the exterior shots; the interior was presumably a set).
The two scientists we see are Tom Lewellin, an idealistic psychiatrist, and David Neville, a geneticist. They are originally close friends, but come to hold different views on how the children should be treated. Neville comes to see the children as evil, and agrees with Webster that they should be destroyed. The more compassionate Lewellin argues that the children have only killed in self-defence and that their lives should be spared.
In "Village of the Damned" the children were alien invaders from another world. It would perhaps be incorrect to describe them as evil (it is unclear whether they have any concept of morality), but they are certainly malevolent and hostile towards humanity. "Children of the Damned" was advertised under the tagline "So young, so innocent, so deadly - they came to conquer the world!", which would support the view that the children in this film too are aliens, but this is not borne out by the story itself, in which it is suggested that they are not from another planet but rather represent a future stage in mankind's evolution and that they have somehow (by means that are never explained) travelled in time rather than in space.
The main difference between the two films is that "Village of the Damned" was simply a thriller, albeit one of the best science-fiction thrillers ever made. "Children of the Damned", by contrast, was evidently made as a film with a message. The trouble is trying to decipher exactly what its message is. I was interested to see the comment by another reviewer who stated that, originally, Paul was given a speech in which he stated that the children "are here to help mankind". This was omitted from the final version of the film (certainly from the version that I saw) in which he merely makes the fatalistic, and chilling statement, that the children are there "to be destroyed".
If Paul's original speech had been kept, and the children had explicitly been presented as benefactors of mankind, it might have been possible to view the film as a religious allegory along the lines of "Whistle Down the Wind" with the children as Christ-figures destroyed by those they came to save. Certainly, there are elements in the film that hint at such an interpretation. Paul's mother Diana states that she was a virgin when she gave birth to him, and the paternity of the other children seems equally dubious. The scene in which another of the children, Rashid, is brought back to life after being killed recalls both the Resurrection and other episodes from the Gospels such as the raising of Lazarus. The fact that much of the film is set in a church may also support this interpretation, and the fact that the church is disused may be symbolic of the way in which humanity has drifted away from the Christian message.
I should, however, point out that there are also elements which seem to militate against a religious interpretation. The children are responsible for several deaths and, whereas these can all be seen as killings in self-defence, this is at odds with the Gospel story in which Christ rejects the use of force, even to defend himself against his enemies. ("He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword"). In the final scene, when the children are themselves killed, this seems to be a tragic accident rather than a deliberate act. It may be that, in its final form, the film may simply have been intended as a pacifist or internationalist tract about the need for co-operation and goodwill among the nations of the world and towards those who are different from oneself.
The film is visually striking, with its stark black-and-white photography (something else it shares with "Whistle Down the Wind" and the strange, otherworldly look of the children themselves. It is an interesting attempt to make a film of ideas (something to which the science-fiction genre seems well suited), but I found that its ideas were often muddled.
Review by James Hitchcock from the Internet Movie Database.