[Screen It]


(1999) (Nigel Hawthorne, Rebecca Pidgeon) (G)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild None Moderate None Minor
Minor None None None Minor
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
None Moderate Mild Mild None

Drama: A father fights his son's expulsion from a naval academy with the help of his family and a cunning lawyer in pre-WWI London.
In pre-WWI London, Arthur Winslow (NIGEL HAWTHORNE) is a successful banker and proud family man. His thirty-year-old daughter, Catherine (REBECCA PIDGEON), a cooly independent woman involved in the suffrage movement, is planning to marry John Watherstone (ADEN GILLETT), an Army man who's come seeking Arthur's blessing for the union.

He, of course, approves, as does his wife, Grace (GEMMA JONES), and their son, Dickie (MATTHEW PIDGEON), who's still attending Oxford. The family's solicitor, Desmond Curry (COLIN STINTON), is less than pleased, however, since he's always longed for Catherine, but is more than gracious enough to the engaged couple.

The joyous occasion turns sour when youngest son Ronnie (GUY EDWARDS) sheepishly returns home after having been expelled from the Osbourne Naval College for allegedly stealing and cashing a fellow student's five-shilling postal note. The thirteen-year-old claims his innocense, and after stern questioning from his father, is believed to be so by him and the rest of the family.

From that point on and as many months pass, Arthur does what he can to prove his son's innocense, including hiring Sir Robert Morton (JEREMY NORTHAM), a prominent and successful barrister, to defend the boy and the family's honor in court.

Initially reluctant, especially since Ronnie's handwriting perfectly matches the forged signature on the postal order, Morton decides to represent them. As the case wears on and consumes a great deal of the press and government's attention, the Winslows must deal with mixed public reaction to their cause, as well as their rapidly declining wealth and former family simplicity.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast or of playwright turned director David Mamet, it's highly unlikely they'll want to see this film.
For not containing material to warrant a higher rating.
  • NIGEL HAWTHORNE plays a successful banker and proud family man who risks everything to defend his boy's honor.
  • REBECCA PIDGEON plays his confident and cooly independent adult daughter who's involved in the women's suffrage movement and smokes.
  • JEREMY NORTHAM plays the cunning and calculating barrister who smokes and drinks some, but turns out to have more of a heart than anyone initially believes as he takes the family's case.
  • GUY EDWARDS plays the teenager accused of stealing a postal order who adamantly proclaims his innocense.
  • GEMMA JONES plays the family matriarch who's concerned about the impact the court case has on Arthur and the family overall.
  • COLIN STINTON plays the family's solicitor who longs for Catherine despite realizing that she doesn't have similar feelings for him.


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    Based on the original 1946 stage play by Terence Rattigan ("The Browning Version") who adapted it from the real life, 1908 case of a young Naval cadet who was expelled for allegedly stealing a postal note from a classmate, "The Winslow Boy" is a solidly constructed drama featuring great performances from a terrific cast.

    While mainstream moviegoers will probably find the proceedings a bit too quaint, slow and/or theatrical for their tastes, "art house" afficionados will absolutely love this film. Much of that is due as much to the man behind the camera as the performers in front of it.

    In his sixth film serving as writer and director, playwright turned filmmaker David Mamet ("The Spanish Prisoner," "House of Games" and screenwriter for films such as "The Edge" and "Wag the Dog") takes Rattigan's play -- which hit the big screen once before in 1948 -- and effortlessly brings it to life.

    Although Mamet forgoes his unique and often utilized dialogue that erupts from his performers' mouths like crisscrossing machine gun fire -- as well as the omission of the usual extreme profanity -- that effect works well with this material. While I've usually admired his well-written verse for the sheer brilliance of its construction, it often sounds painfully forced and/or fake, with characters unnaturally repeating unrealistic sounding lines.

    Here, the dialogue feels nothing short of completely natural. It's possible that some may miss the trademark, fast-paced staccato delivery, but I for one found the writing brimming with an unusual intelligence (for most movies). One gets a sense of many subtleties abounding as we get hints and pieces of what the characters are thinking and feeling as opposed to what they actually say on the surface.

    Better yet, the performances are nothing short of outstanding, with solid takes from most every character present in the production. Nigel Hawthorne ("The Object of My Affection" and an Oscar nominee for "The Madness of King George") is absolutely riveting as the restrained, but wise father. Displaying signs of much more stirring underneath his genteelness than he'll outwardly display, Hawthorne delivers yet another amazingly subtle performance for this well- written character.

    Equally as good is Jeremy Northam ("Emma," "Mimic") as the apparently cold and calculating barrister whose initial appearance and demeanor slowly flake away to expose the real man hidden beneath. Perfectly playing the confident and cunning lawyer character, Northam is not only mesmerizing, but also does a great job in slowly exposing his character's more complicated, but mostly hidden characteristics. In doing so, he delivers what's probably his best screen performance to date.

    The real gem, however, is Rebecca Pidgeon ("The Spanish Prisoner" and current real-life spouse to Mamet). While some complained about her aloof and emotionally distant performance in "The Spanish Prisoner," those characteristics actually work rather well for her character here. Playing the "woman before her time" role, Pidgeon -- like her fellow performers -- slowly exposes her inner character, and as a result, we like her ever more as the story progresses.

    The scenes featuring the subdued antagonism and flirting between her and Morton are fabulous, and their unusual chemistry together is one of the film's highlights. Meanwhile, performances from the likes of Gemma Jones ("Sense and Sensibility") as the sturdy mother and Guy Edwards ("A Pride of Lions") as the titular subject are also quite strong, as are those from the rest of the cast.

    If there's one major complaint about the film, it's that it still has the trappings of a theatrically staged performance. While Mamet has allowed for a few scenes to take place outside the Winslow home, most still occur there and consequently, the film occasionally has that stuffy, Masterpiece theater feel.

    Worse yet, however, is the fact that the film describes or tells us things instead of showing them. For instance, we often hear about the press camped out the Winslow home, but never see them. Nor do we experience the public reaction toward the case or the family, but only see it in newspaper headlines. The biggest omission, though, is not showing the pivotal court case, Morton's related legal theatrics, and the reportedly emotion-laden outcome.

    Not only does this shortchange the audience -- when Arthur states that he would have liked to have been in the court for the final decision, the audience feels the same way -- but it also makes the whole notion of the country's enormously heated reaction to this seemingly insignificant case -- notwithstanding the historical truth -- a bit hard to swallow. While the theater-like presentation certainly kept the production costs down, a few extra scenes showing others' reactions -- and how they affected the Winslows -- as well as that pivotal last day in court would have made the film feel complete and more emotionally satisfying and involving.

    Nonetheless, the film survives those problems mainly due to the outstanding performances and Mamet's more than capable writing and directing skills. Although it's perhaps a bit slow at times, there's enough sly and witty humor and slowly revealed personas to keep things interesting and entertaining for the picture's target "art house" audience. We give "The Winslow Boy" a 7 out of 10.

    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this G-rated drama. Several characters smoke a few times and some drinking also occurs. Profanity rates as minor with 1 use of "damn" and a few religious phrases also being used. Some characters have brief, bad attitudes and then there's the whole issue of a stolen postal note although we never positively know the identity of the actual culprit. Beyond that, however, the rest of the film is void of any major objectionable content.

  • To celebrate Catherine and John's engagement, everyone drinks Madeira (wine).
  • Arthur pours whiskey for Morton and himself.
  • Morton drinks some whiskey that Catherine has poured for him.
  • None.
  • While we never know for sure whether Ronnie stole the postal order and forged his classmate's signature, someone did.
  • Morton acts as if he's against the women's suffrage movement, and as a result, Catherine is rather cool to him.
  • Catherine's fiancÚ bows to his father's influence to call off their engagement (or else forfeit his allowance) as a result of the Winslows not succumbing to their blackmail to drop their court case.
  • None.
  • Ceremonial Swords: Carried by several military men, including John.
  • Phrases: "I'll be damned" and "What utter rot."
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 1 damn, 2 uses of "Oh Lord" and 1 use each of "Oh God," "For God's sakes" and "Lord" as exclamations.
  • None.
  • Catherine, Morton and Dickie smoke around three times each, while John (cigarette) and Desmond (cigar) smoke once, and a few miscellaneous characters also smoke.
  • Ronnie is afraid of his father's reaction to his expulsion (as is the rest of the family). Once everyone's on the same side and as the court case wears on, Grace worries about what it's doing to Arthur.
  • The historical accuracy of the story.
  • Whether the expulsion and resulting court case should have consumed so much of everyone's attention (particularly right before the onset of WWI), and whether the family ultimately suffered more than they gained.
  • None.

  • Reviewed May 12, 1999 / Posted May 14, 1999

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