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Disgusted with the policies of King Charles I, Oliver Cromwell plans to take his family to the New World. But on the eve of their departure, Cromwell is drawn into the tangled web of religion and politics that will result in the English Civil War. Written by
Marg Baskin <email@example.com>
Honestly, this is the kind of movie that gives historical drama a bad name.
Granted, it is handsomely produced, with lavish costumes and sets, but it's mostly a big snooze. Especially when one compares it to Richard Lester's "The Three Musketeers," made only three years later, large parts of this film feel inescapably stagebound, much like the historical epics that were regularly churned out during the early 1950s, at the beginning of Cinemascope (i.e. "The Robe").
Yet the battle scenes and crowd scenes are impressive in their pageantry, and are about the only times in this movie where things seem to come alive. The cinematography is pretty nice, and Alec Guinness's performance as King Charles is remarkable in its subtlety and complexity. But Richard Harris' performance as Cromwell verges on camp, and he provides many unintentional chuckles, as he chews the scenery and spits it out again with a vengeance. One wonders why they didn't just get Chuck Heston for the role. "Get your stinking paws off of me, you DAMNED DIRTY KING!!" But maybe he just wasn't available. So here we have a grandstanding Dick Harris in what should perhaps be called "Planet of the Roundheads."
The major problem is that there are really no characters- with the sole exception of King Charles- that are interesting. Virtually everyone in this movie can be described with one adjective. Cromwell is righteous, the Queen is scheming, Prince Rupert is foppish, Fairfax is moderate, etc. etc.
It's impossible to care about any of these cardboard cut-outs in fancy dress, and after a while I was beginning to wish one of those Diggers would go postal and mow down the principal players with the 17th century equivalent of a Glock. The music is particularly obnoxious too- a Carmina Burana rip-off complete with a chorus bellowing out, at intervals, "REJOICE! REJOICE!" And I'm not even going to touch the subject of the director's highly questionable decision to canonize someone like Oliver Cromwell, whose character might be charitably called "complex." I'm not even Irish, but my stomach was lurching at those- many- moments when Richard Harris was staring nobly off into the distance while that damn chorus screeched away in the background like it was the umpteenth millionth remake of "Quo Vadis."
However, with all this said, it's impossible for me to hate this movie. It tries... so... hard! The final result is dubious, to say the least, but at least the project's ambition is commendable, and rather touching in a way. "Cromwell" is a noble experiment which- rather like Cromwell's Commonwealth itself- ends ultimately in failure.
But hey, on the bright side, at least there's Alec Guinness!
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