The Winslow Boy (1999)
This is not the only adaptation of the Rattigan play of the same name, but it is by far the best one. That is helped by a superb script from David Mamet, who also directed the film with consummate skill. Then there is the casting, with a breathtaking array of some of the finest British actors on display. Add the wonderful costume, convincing sets, and the compelling original (based on true events) story, and this film is a sheer wonder, from start to finish. I have seen it at least three times, and it is so good, I would happily watch it again next week.
The story itself is simple, but complex in the telling. Set not long before WW1, in 1911, we follow the life of a well-to-do middle class banker and his family, in London. His oldest child, a daughter, is involved with the Suffragettes, and is a ‘modern’ woman, with political opinions, and a feisty attitude. She is engaged to be married to an officer in the Household Cavalry. His older son is at Oxford University, but showing little aptitude for his studies. The youngest son, the Winslow Boy of the title, has just started at the prestigious Naval College, Osbourne, and is the apple of his father’s eye. Just before Christmas, the boy, Ronnie, appears in the garden of the house. He has been expelled from the Naval College, accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order, from another cadet.
When his father believes his story that he is innocent, this starts a chain of events that all but destroy the family, taking them to the brink of bankruptcy, and altering the destinies of both older children irrevocably. Unable to secure satisfaction from the Admiralty, Mr Winslow embarks on the lengthy, and costly, legal process of taking The Crown to court. He hopes to secure a proper trial for his son. Even though it is accepted that he can never return to the Naval College, he is determined to prove Ronnie’s innocence in a public court. To do so, he engages the services of one of the best barristers in Britain, the haughty Sir Robert Morton, who agrees to take on the case. Morton is also a Member of Parliament, and he sees the opportunity to embarrass the government, at the same time as securing the boy’s innocence.
The film shows no courtroom scenes. This in itself is a stroke of genius, as the viewer must chart the progress by the reaction of the family, the journalists, and the general public. This is shown in newspapers, family discussions, and scenes from The House of Commons. As their comfortable lives begin to unravel, the family starts to question the point of the proceedings, and Mrs Winslow is close to despair, following the reduced financial circumstances of her household. If you think this doesn’t sound like much of a film, then I have to tell you that you are very wrong. It is one of the best historical dramas ever committed to the screen, with a cast that is at the top of its game. I think it is the best film ever made, in this particular genre.
Nigel Hawthorne, as the determined Mr Winslow. Flawless.
Jeremy Northam, as the complex Sir Robert. Beyond flawless.
Gemma Jones, as the troubled Mrs Winslow. Flawless
Rebecca Pidgeon, as Catherine, the ‘political’ daughter. Flawless.
All the other cast members. Flawless.
Period feel. Flawless.
This film definitely deserves a wider audience, and to be better appreciated. Jeremy Northam is one of the finest actors of his generation, given the right part. Gemma Jones was born to act in ‘period’, and Nigel Hawthorne delivers a nuance in his acting that is a joy to behold. Rebecca Pidgeon looks so convincing, you could almost believe that she lived through that period.
As you can tell, I like this one a lot. I can’t get the official trailer, but here’s a scene.