Friday, March 07, 2008

Film on Friday - The Winslow Boy

This Friday Pink Heart Society editor Natasha Oakley brings us David Mamet's 'The Winslow Boy'.

First it was a real court case, then a Terence Rattigan play, then a movie and then another movie. There's a reason for that. It's a brilliant story.

David Mamet's version is its latest outing, released in 1999, and it's an absolute gem. It's just perfection. Definitely one for the DVD collection, particularly because you get the 'Director's Cut'. The romance turns on a 'look'. Wish I could write that look.

The real life case concerned a boy, George Archer-Shee, who was accused of theft in 1908 while he was a cadet at Osbourne Naval College on the Isle of Wight.

Terence Rattigan changed the names, the politics, created a sister, moved the date closer to the start of WW1 and made the boy younger. The play opened in 1946 and was last performed in the West End in 1994.

The first movie, directed by Anthony Asquith, was released in the UK in 1948. It's classy and well worth watching, but the 1999 version has Jeremy Northam in it so that gets my vote.

A little bit of fun movie nonsense is that Neil North, who played the First Lord of the Admiralty in the 1999 version, played Ronnie Winslow in the 1948 one.

Ronnie Winslow, a thirteen-year-old cadet at the Royal Naval College is accused of the theft of a five-shilling postal order. An internal enquiry, conducted without informing his family and without legal representation, finds him guilty. His family are asked to 'withdraw him from the college'.

Primarily the movie is about Arthur Winslow's fight to clear his son's name and the consequences to his family of that decision. Nigel Hawthorne, as the dad, is typically wonderful. You see him tire before your eyes, his health broken.

It's a fight for the case to be heard at all. Under British law Admiralty decisions are official acts of the government, which cannot be contested without its consent— if, and only if, there is a just cause at stake. 'Let right be done'.

Daughter Catherine, played by Mamet's real life wife Rebecca Pidgeon, considers it highly unlikely 'star' barrister and ambitious Member of Parliament, Sir Robert Morton (played by the oh-so-sexy Jeremy Northam), will take the case. Watch for the look during the scene in his Chambers.

As a suffrogette Catherine is everything Robert dislikes in a woman, but one look and the boy's in trouble.

Contrary to her expectation Sir Robert, convinced Ronnie is innocent, does take on the case and argues the need to bring the case to trial in the House of Commons. Catherine, in a very 'fetching hat', watches from the Ladies Gallery throughout. She remains sceptical of his motives, but it's his impassioned performance which finally get's the case heard. 'Let Right Be Done'.

But it comes at a cost. Elder brother Dickie, played by Rebecca's real life brother, has to leave Oxford. Catherine's marriage settlement is spent and her fiancé John Watherstone breaks off their engagement when she refuses to allow her father to give up the case.

Think O J Simpson in Edwardian clothes and you'll get the idea of the media circus which surrounds the trial.

As their evidence crumbles, the Admiralty abruptly withdraws all charges against cadet Ronnie Winslow and proclaims him innocent.

Far from being the cold manipulator Catherine thought him throughout, Sir Robert declined appointment as Lord Chief Justice rather than abandon the case. When Catherine challenges him on it, Sir Robert stutters. In the Director's Cut commentary Jeremy Northam cringes but it's just perfect.

Sir Robert Morton: I wept today because right had been done.
Catherine Winslow: Not justice?
Sir Robert Morton: No, not justice. Right. Easy to do justice. Very hard to do right.

And don't you just know these two are going to have a fiery, exciting marriage.

Sir Robert Morton: Oh, you still pursue your feminist activities?
Catherine Winslow: Oh yes.
Sir Robert Morton: Pity. It's a lost cause.
Catherine Winslow: Oh, do you really think so, Sir Robert? How little you know about women. Good-bye. I doubt that we shall meet again.
Sir Robert Morton: Oh, do you really think so, Miss Winslow? How little you know about men.

All in all I've decided to give 'The Winslow Boy' a Pink Heart Society Warm Fuzzy Rating of 9 out of 10. I've taken away a point because the romance isn't the centre of the story but I defy you not to think about it long after the credits roll.

And it's got Jeremy Northam in it. Just watch it!

With love

Natasha's next Harlequin Romance, 'Wanted: White Wedding' is out in NA and the UK in May.

To find out more about Natasha and her books visit her website and her blog.


  1. Jeremy is perfectly casted as Sir Robert Morton: mannerism, gestures, looks. But then he is such a good actor!
    Alina Gordelli

  2. I love this movie. And the ending is so poignant, when the boy at the centre of it all doesn't really even know what's going on or what the cost has been to everyone.

  3. One of my fave movies EVER Natasha. Love love love it. The romance is sooo subtle and lovely.

    Thanks for telling eveyrone about it!