Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Winslow Boy (1999) Film Review
The Winslow Boy
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
Why should a period piece feel so dated? Terence Rattigan's play, based on the famous Archer-Shee trial in 1910, is about justice and honour and all those things little boys were taught to respect in the days when Britannia ruled.
Ronnie Winslow (Guy Edwards), a 13-year-old cadet at Naval College, is expelled for forging another boy's signature on a postal order. Ronnie swears he didn't do it. Rather than let the matter rest, his father (Nigel Hawthorne), a respectable bank manager, hires the most famous barrister in the land (Jeremy Northam) and almost bankrupts the family in the process.
David Mamet's adaptation is short on surprises. He opens the play out a little, such as introducing scenes at the House of Commons, which neither add nor convince, and yet fails to give an indication of the public interest in the case, except through newspaper headlines and talk of crowds at the door.
Within the confines of drawing room drama, set changes are discouraged. Rattigan accepted this as a challenge. Movies don't operate that way. They need to expand horizons. For Mamet not to go to court seems perverse. Retreating into theatrical convention loses so much cinematically.
What dates the film is how emotionally shackled everyone appears. Feelings are repressed to the point of torture. Catherine (Rebecca Pidgeon), the intellectually free suffragette daughter, whose cool assessment of social behavior sharpens the minds of those around her, is engaged to a block of wood (Guards officer). Their passion has the sexual frisson of silage. The most famous QC in the country would rather choke on an aphorism than speak from the heart. As an exercise in lip stiffening, The Winslow Boy is tops.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001