I was thinking. I know, sounds dangerous. Unless I am mistaken, we are never given a definite age for the kids in the movie. Right? There are now two references that come at the possible ages indirectly.
One is when Melody is inconsolable with her parents, after the bad day that followed the day they skipped school to go to the seaside. When told that people generally wait to see if they like each other when they’re older, she asks how old. Her father says “in their twenties, older sometimes.”
She plaintively says “but that’s twice as old as I am now.”
Which only tells us she is at least 10, and that much was already obvious. She could be as old as 12 and still shorthand it to “twice as old” in reference to twenties.
We do know that Tracy Hyde’s age was 10 at the very, very beginning of filming in May 1970, and 11 from May 16 through the end of filming in August.
We also know that Mark Lester’s age was 11 when filming started in May, and 12 when filming ended in August, since his birthday was July 11. Probably just as well he was a year older, as it worked well for them to look the same age in the film.
Finally, we know that Jack Wild was 17 during filming, and turned 18 the September 30 not long afterward. He very much looks and seems older in the film, while still looking young enough to pass. In his case, actual age of the actor tells us nothing.
Now that I know what the headmaster is actually saying to Melody after Daniel discloses that they want to get married, there is another clue. Which I guess is about what I always took to be implicit. “I assume you’ve already promised your fair, freckled first-form hand in marriage to this young gentleman?”
As I noted, I could never figure out that the headmaster was saying first-form in that exchange. That’s an indication of grade or level in school, or it was at the time. First form in North America is equivalent to 7th grade. The surviving British term seems to be sixth form, but in that article it notes:
Pupils started their first year of secondary school in the first form or first year, and this was the academic year in which pupils would normally become 12 years of age.
In the US the year for turning 12 would ordinarily be 6th grade, or the 7th year of school including kindergarten. In a typical system with a middle school, that would be the first of three middle school years. I went to a jr high system, so elementary went through 6th grade, jr high was 7th and 8th, and then it was four years of high school. I think the system that ends at 10th grade, or 11th year, makes a lot of sense. A lot of high school was repetition or boredom, and that could be a good point to separate out the harder core academic track students from those who would pursue a more vocational or job training path. But I digress.
I had always imagined this as 5th grade, and thus particularly early, based on their ages. Further, it is obviously late in the school year, based on my analysis of the timeline from various cues. That’s a big difference, 5th to 6th. You could say that was the leap from cooties to not cooties, generally speaking. It didn’t take a stretch to imagine a similar story happening to me in 5th grade. For 6th it would just have been a matter of being one of the lucky guys who had a girlfriend. There was one I knew of in just my classroom, which was one of four or five classrooms for the grade.
In Melody, the kids actually seem younger and more innocent than that, except sometimes they don’t.
I’ve seen reviews or commentaries that range from describing the kids as 10 years old to 12 years old. Then again, I’ve seen reviews that made me wonder if the reviewer actually watched the film. Sort of the equivalent of dashing off a last minute book report for school based largely on the jacket description and what you imagine was in the book, or get from opening and reading a couple paragraphs in a few places and maybe the conclusion.
Speaking of conclusion, I think what I should probably conclude is that they are in the equivalent of 6th grade, AKA 7th year, and that if they are 11 in the film, they won’t remain so much longer. It all works with the skilled depiction of showing the two of them growing up dramatically over a short time. For that matter, it’s not clear either of them were still comfortable acting as young kids even when they still were shown that way. Melody was out of place with the gang of little kids mobbing the rag man. It was just… what she knew at the time.
So I’m going to call them 11, but high side. I am prepared to believe that Tom Ornshaw was actually older, maybe by a year. Wiser, if not. He’s a study all by himself. Bright but treated as stupid. Clearly older in outlook and wisdom than his form one cohort. I’m going to call them 6th grade.