Freddie can’t help but feel just a little down on Christmas Eve. The airman’s leave didn’t come through, so he’ll be spending the Christmas of 1957 on the North German Suffolk airbase where he’s stationed.
He won’t be spending any warm, cozy, fireside moments with his family back in England. He won’t be hand in hand with his girlfriend, Lizzie, their breath mingling in a cloudy vapor as they walk through the lightly falling snow. He’ll have to put all that off for a few more weeks.
But … it won’t feel the same somehow.
Out of the blue, though, an opportunity arises. One of his fellow pilots stumbles in with his arm in a sling. Injured in a snowball fight, of all things. But this particular pilot was scheduled to fly a De Havilland Vampire, single engine jet back home tonight.
Freddie leaps at the opportunity before anyone else can claim it. And his senior station officer gives him the thumbs up. Freddie has only just been approved for night missions. But it’s a clear night and just a straight 66-minute zip across the North Sea.
Suddenly, visions of Lizzie’s delightfully inviting smile dance around in Freddie’s mind. He’s going home. And when the small jet lifts off into the crisp and star-spattered skies, its pilot is filled with the joy over everything that went just right.
Fifteen minutes later, everything goes wrong.
First, it’s the compass failing. Then the radio. And quickly Freddie realizes that an electrical failure has pretty much wiped out all his instruments. He decides that he’ll have to keep going and look for visual markers once he nears land again.
And then an impossibly thick fog rolls in, blotting out everything.
As the time ticks by and the jet’s fuel tank empties, Freddie stops thinking of warm moments and warmer hugs. He begins thinking of what direction he might be headed in. He thinks of the note he’ll write on the back of his map. Perhaps they’ll find it intact if they ever find the plane.
For Freddie is now sure he’ll never make it home.
In a roundabout way, The Shepherd lauds the bravery of heroic pilots called Shepherds. During World War II, these brave souls would repeatedly fly out to meet wounded and limping squadrons returning from their missions. And they would do everything in their power to guide the battered planes and their airmen home to safety.
This story doesn’t dwell on the things of Christmas, other than Freddie’s longing to share it with family and Lizzie. But Freddie does take a moment to consider all his dreams of marriage and raising a family (painting it all as a blessing) that he’s fairly sure he’ll never have the chance to enjoy with the woman he loves.
It’s Christmas time. And this pic implies that it’s a special time when miraculous things might happen. That said, the movie never addresses God or Jesus and the reason for the holiday celebration.
Someone gives thanks to God in the midst of the story’s turmoil. There are a few brief Christmas-carol snippets played in the background, including the classic “Carol of the Bells.”
No sexual content. But Freddie is, of course, deeply in love with his pretty, young girlfriend, Lizzie.
Freddie faces moments of emotionally overwhelming peril. And he accepts his deadly fate, one that seems but moments away.
Someone exclaims “God!” in the midst of a distressful moment. Freddie uses the British crudity “bloody” when the instruments fail, and he wonders out loud, “What the h— is going on?”
We see officers and their dates drinking mugs of beer at a Christmas party. Freddie is given a glass of harder alcohol, which he drinks.
Based on a Frederick Forsyth novella, this short film (which runs just 38 minutes) tells of an unexpected air rescue on Christmas Eve, 1957.
In truth, though, it’s more ghost story than a tale of Christmas. And to say much more than the fact that The Shepherd is a Twilight Zone-like pic would do this well-crafted short a disservice. (In fact, the trailer for the film pretty much gives the twist of the tale away. So, you’d be better off not watching it.)
Still, this is an interesting piece that captures a believable sense of the time period it depicts. And in its own subtle way, it lauds the self-sacrificial bravery of air pilots of the past.
Interested movie watchers should go in cold. The only small caution is aimed at younger viewers who’ll witness some festive adult drinking and the sense of fear and peril that the protagonist finds himself wrapped in early on.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.