The child actors required for the film were drawn from several London acting schools and agencies. Many of the children appearing in this film would go on to appear in Wolf Rilla’s next project and best known film, ‘Village of the Damned’ a couple of months later. The scene where Jessy arrives at her house for the first time and is confronted by a group of gawping neighbourhood children is mirrored in a similar sequence in ‘Village of the Damned’ with a handful of the same actors.
The adult actors who appeared in the film were associated with the Stars Organisation for Spastics, a body formed so celebrities could contribute to raising awareness of the condition as well as funds for specific projects. Welsh actor Donald Houston played the paternalistic teacher. He also provided the narration for the film ‘Spastics, Everybody's Children’ in 1975.
Although the film had budget limitations, particularly evident during the interior studio sequences, the extensive location shooting breathes life into it. The optical effects for the transitions during the dream sequence are also particularly effective. The name of Jessy’s school is Craig y Parc School, a real school outside Cardiff that still operates as a special school run by Scope. Footage of the school – shot on poorer quality film stock – was used to illustrate the therapies and range of activities available there. The film stopped short of casting a disabled actor in the title role, but using actual footage from Craig y Parc School showed real people with disability, which was unusual at the time.
The film was completed by December 1959 when it received a ‘U’ (Universal) classification from the Censor; the classification was necessary for the film to be shown in cinemas. The first public screening of the film was on August 4 1960 at the Odeon Leicester Square as a supporting film during the premiere of 'The Lost World'.
John Davis of Rank, a notoriously conservative accountant, arranged for ‘Jessy’ to go on general release around Britain through the Rank’s Odeon cinema chain starting August 15 as a supporting film for the Paul Newman, feature ‘From the Terrace.’ Renown waived their distribution fees and all profits from the film went to the National Spastics Society.
According to Ian Dawson-Shepherd “Many parents of spastic children and some executive members of the Society disliked it describing it as “Silly!" and "Untrue!". Dawson-Shepherd agreed that the film did not show the truth, but it did introduce a wider audience to the challenges facing children like Jessy.
Dick Richards, the film critic of the Daily Mirror present at the premiere of ‘The Lost World’, wrote of ‘Jessy,’ “The sad plight of spastic children is shown with warmth and affectionate sympathy”, and closes his review with “It is more than a documentary —it is a plea. Please do not miss it.”
Ian Dawson-Shepherd recalls that the Controller of BBC Television, who had been invited to an earlier press screening of ‘Jessy’, was so impressed by the film that he asked if it could broadcast by the BBC. Because of the deal made with Renown this was not possible but an alternative was negotiated by Margaret Johns, a documentary film called ‘Every Eight Hours’.
‘Jessy’ was entered into the 1961 Boston Film Festival in the USA where it won four awards. The film was also available with a French soundtrack.
Dawson-Shepherd and Johns must have been delighted with their first venture into commercial film making. Not only did they create a prize-winning film, they also succeeded in their original aim of increasing the visibility of people with disability among a wider audience.