Film: The Winslow Boy


Cast includes: Rebecca Pidgeon (The Spanish Prisoner), Nigel Hawthorn (The Madness of King George), Jeremy Notrham (The Net), Gemma Jones (Sense and Sensibility)
Screenplay/direction: David Mamet (The Spanish Prisoner)
Genre: Historic based drama (1999)

In brief: “If you did it you must tell me. If you tell a lie, I shall know it because a lie between us cannot be hidden. Did you steal this postal order?” “No Father, I didn’t.” This is how Father knows that 13-year-old Ronnie is innocent of the charges against him and has been expelled from the Osborne Naval Academy unjustly. It’s the early 1900s, and in England, there is no way to fight a charge like this. But Arthur is determined to fight it and clear his son’s name. After months, there has still been no trial, but the case has gained such public notice that reporters are permanently camped out in front of the Winslow home. When Arthur tells a reporter that they are hoping to brief Sir Robert Morton on the case, she asks, “Do you really think he’ll take a little case like this?” “Oh, this is not a little case,” Arthur tells her. “I intend to fight this monstrous injustice with every weapon and every power at my disposal.” And so he does.

We can’t be sure if Sir Robert takes the Winslow case because he thinks it’s a worthy case or if he takes it because he’s taken with Catherine, the beautiful Winslow daughter. But after questioning Ronnie so brutally that we’re sure he thinks Ronnie guilty, he says, “The boy is plainly innocent. I accept the brief.” Fighting this “monstrous injustice” turns out to be a huge sacrifice for the entire family. The public, too, is consumed with the Winslow case… not only in the media but also songs and souvenirs celebrate the boy’s innocence or disparaging the legitimacy of the case. But in the end, there is one guiding principle… “Let right be done.”

Period drama can be enjoyable for many reasons… all of which would apply to The Winslow Boy. But this movie is a standout for another reason… the language. I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that if Shakespeare has a modern-day successor, it would be David Mamet. While Mamet plays and films are known for their exceptional use of language, The Winslow Boy, in particular, is a standout. It was adapted from a 1946 stage play by Terence Rattigan, so Mamet shares the writing credit with Rattigan. You have to pay attention to the words because many key plot points hinge on them, with little use of dramatic flourishes for emphasis. Yet the effect of the understated acting style is quite powerful. This is a film that actually gets better every time I see it.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

Popped kernels for the language. Wonderful script, interesting characters, perfect acting. Interesting historic information.

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