The newly arrived vicar is a handsome, earnest and sensitive man in his early thirties. Before too long his high mindedness creates a couple of dangerous enemies who come together to bring about his downfall. The first is a spinster, also in her early thirties, who is the daughter of the previous vicar, and a pillar of the local church community. She is conscious that time is passing and that if she is not married soon she will be left on the shelf. She forms a strong attraction to the new vicar, and very quickly she impetuously throws herself at him declaring that she loves him. Alas for her, the feelings are not reciprocated, and the vicar rebuffs her advances, albeit with some sensitivity. The spinster considers that she has been scorned and is on the lookout for a means of revenge.
The second enemy is a loutish youth in his late teens, the ringleader of a bunch of local delinquents. He has been dating a girl who has become pregnant by him. He evades his responsibilities towards her, and the girl becomes fearful about what will happen if her father finds out. She informs the vicar about the situation, but in a rather contrived situation she is then hit and killed by a car, distracted when she observes her boyfriend canoodling with another young woman.
The vicar is aware that the youth is responsible for the pregnancy, and after the inquest they both attended, the vicar accuses him of being responsible for the death of his girlfriend through his selfish and inconsiderate behaviour. The youth takes great offence at this, and observing that the spinster has just entered the vicarage on parish business, he rips open his shirt and runs to the spinster maliciously accusing the vicar of ‘interfering’ with him.
The police become involved and, as the only witness, the spinster backs up the youth’s accusation. The vicar soon starts to receive poison pen letters, rocks thrown through his window, his parishioners desert him, and he gets into a brawl with the father of the youth, vociferously encouraged by his braying pub mates.
The vicar’s mother returns to the vicarage after a few days away and is shocked by what has happened. She is sure that her son must be innocent of what he is accused of, and confronts the spinster as to what really happened. After this emotional encounter the spinster gets some pangs of conscience and she contrives a situation whereby the youth’s lies are exposed. Hypocritically, the parishioners all start to return, and the film ends with the vicar agreeing to stay on, with a strong hint that he will probably marry the spinster, as in reality they are well suited.
The film was released at a time when traditional morality was still upheld. Nevertheless, the first stirrings of the new permissiveness were beginning to emerge, and so it must have been a novel experience for cinemagoers to be confronted with the previously taboo subject of homosexuality.
In a sense the film was more progressive and open minded compared to what would be permitted today, since we are now all subject to the straitjacket of the broad PC commitment to ‘believe the victim’. Additionally, it would now be considered judgemental to portray a non-consensual homosexual encounter. There would not be a happy ending either, the vicar would be denounced as a paedophile (a term now very broadly defined), using his respected position in society as a cover for his predatory behaviour. His guilt would be assumed since it is an article of faith that children and young people would never lie to gain revenge.
The story line was happy to confirm society’s then abhorrence of homosexuals, particularly those who tried to corrupt youths into entering what was then regarded as a deviant lifestyle. None of the characters questioned the consensus as to whether homosexual activity was acceptable, and in the brawl scene involving the vicar the pub regulars voiced their contempt towards him in no uncertain terms.
It should be remembered that during this era the now saintly Alan Turing was convicted of the same offence as the fictional vicar was accused of, namely propositioning a teen youth to engage in what society considered to be deviant sexual activity. This was a crime which until the early nineties was regarded as sufficiently serious to warrant a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, until it was suddenly decided that such behaviour should no longer be a crime at all. However, this law was not repealed in a new wave of permissiveness, since the same cohort who brought about this change was more than happy to start jailing men for a variety of sexual activities which had previously never been criminal.
This all goes to show that what constitutes a sexual offence can be highly subjective. So involving the law minutely in the sexual behaviour of its citizens is dangerous for both individual liberty and personal responsibility. Thus the use of the criminal justice system in this area should be confined to instances where genuine harm has occurred, which is most certainly not the case at present.