The film follows Henry Brougham (David Niven), an Episcopalian bishop who hopes to build a new cathedral. Struggling to raise money for the project, he prays for a little help from above. An angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) is sent to help him… but Dudley’s mission revolves around repairing Henry’s strained relationship with his wife (Loretta Young) and daughter, rather than around fundraising.
There’s an obvious joke to be made here about how Cary Grant’s role as a heavenly being is an example of perfect casting. He is the most beautiful man ever, after all. But Grant’s performance truly is wonderful. As Dudley, he embodies the heart of Christmas: hope, love, peace, and joy.
A contrast exists between Dudley’s overwhelmingly positive presence and the bishop’s suspicious, unaccepting attitude toward him. As a bishop, you’d think that he would readily accept the presence of an angel sent to him from God. Instead, he seems disenchanted and disbelieving. Dudley isn’t just restoring a family’s love, he’s restoring belief and the Christmas spirit!Aside from Grant’s performance, the film’s appeal is also built by the talents of Loretta Young (who is very likable as the titular character, and nice to watch in her friendship with Dudley) and Monty Woolley.
The Bishop’s Wife is just a sweet, sweet film, both in tone and in story. Niven’s character is so preoccupied with his work — and though it’s good work, serving a community, he’s lost sight of what’s truly important. A new cathedral should not take precedence over his family, which he learns when the disarmingly charming Dudley comes to town.
The lovely score contributes to the film’s sweetness, and there’s plenty of wintery charm, too (see: the ice skating scene). There are some moments of humor, and a hefty dose of sentiment. The film on the whole is enjoyable in all of its moods, a wonderful watch for the holiday season.