I Heard the Bells

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Not suitable under 10; parental guidance to 11 (violence, scary scenes, themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for I Heard the Bells
  • a review of I Heard the Bells completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 8 December 2022.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 10 Not suitable due to violence, scary scenes and themes.
Children aged 10–11 Parental guidance recommended due to violence, scary scenes and themes.
Children over the age of 11 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: I Heard the Bells
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes
Length: 110 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

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 five children. He is well known and admired for his poetry throughout the country. The oldest son, Charley (Jonathan Blair), wants to go and fight in the war but at 17 he needs his father’s permission, which Henry refuses to give and Frances makes Henry promise that he’ll never allow their sons to fight.

Tragedy occurs, however, when Frances dies due to her dress catching on fire. Henry does his best to save her, and is himself badly burnt in the process, but he is unable to. 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 with the title of the film as a result.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

The American Civil War; Slavery; Death; Tragedy; Hope and Faith in God.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie, including:

  • Frances walks through a room and accidentally knocks over a candle, which sets alight 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 are shown with 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.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The scene when Frances’s dress catches on fire is particularly disturbing.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • A funeral is held which all of the family attend, except for Henry who is still bedridden. Everyone is dressed in black and the children all cry. Charley goes outside of the church to weep.
  • Henry is seen in bed with bandages on his hands and his face badly burnt. He cries when he remembers it’s the day of their 18th wedding anniversary.
  • Frances is shown lying in her coffin.
  • Charley storms off after fighting with his father. The scene is intense with thunder, lightning and rain. Annie asks if Charley is going to die too.
  • Soldiers returning from the war are shown on crutches, with bandages around their heads. Charley arrives on a stretcher, looking like he’s about to die.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • The American Civil War divided the nation on the subject of slavery. The Union wanted an end to slavery and Henry wrote several poems about it. At a dinner, a former slave reads out one of these poems in very dramatic style. He drops a set of chains onto the table, startling everyone, and is so passionate in his reading that it moves the people in the room to tears.
  • Henry questions why God took Frances away from him.
  • Charley asks his father how he can still believe in God after allowing his mother to burn to death. What was God doing at the time – was he asleep or dead?
  • Charley is teased around the army campfire because he has been made a 2nd Lieutenant. This obviously embarrasses him and makes him more determined to see some action.
  • An army lieutenant tells Charley how he’d just ordered 200 men to march into a slaughterhouse.
  • Henry tells the Minister that Frances was his second wife. His first wife, Mary, died after miscarrying a baby at 6 months.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

  • Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Henry and Frances dance closely together and kiss.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • None noted.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Henry takes ether for the pain.
  • One of the soldiers smokes a pipe.

Coarse language

  • None noted.

In a nutshell

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.

The main messages from this movie are that people live on through their legacy; and that there is hope after death.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • The importance of family
  • Hope and faith
  • Caring and compassion.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • The film could give parents the opportunity to discuss the reasons for the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
  • Parents could also discuss their own beliefs.