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BBC TV used to broadcast regular Sunday evening classic plays featuring
top notch actors.
This production of Rattigan's 'The Winslow Boy' is notable for a larger than life performance by the late Alan Badel as the dry-as-dust (with hidden depths) lawyer Sir Robert Morton. Eric Porter is also excellent as the accused naval cadet's stubborn father.
This production has languished in the BBC archives for three decades and I have not seen it since the original broadcast but the power of Alan Badel's acting stays in my memory, eclipsing any rival's performance on TV or film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At his best, which is most of the time, Terence Rattigan's construction was so sound that his plays are virtually actor-proof and will even stand minor tampering/'opening out' as here. Rattigan began his one-set play in the Sitting Room of the Winslow home where young Ronnie is discovered by Violet, the maid, so that we don't know that he has been expelled from Osborne for a few minutes. Here, the director chooses to open with Ronnie leaving Osborne accompanied by a senior cadet officer, and travelling from the Isle of Wight to London where he even gets an extra line of dialogue as he requests the officer not to accompany him to the front door. Though mildly irritating to those who have seen the play performed on stage this is soon forgotten as Rattigan's solid craftsmanship comes into its own, establishing the Winslow family - father, mother, elder son, daughter, daughter's fiancé, solicitor/family friend, before revealing why Ronnie has come home. Eric Porter - who also appeared in Rattigan's Separate Tables on TV - is solid as Arthur Winslow, as is Alan Badel as Sir Robert Morton and Michele Dotrice as the suffragette daughter and natural enemy of Morton. Though it's safe to assume that a good 90 per cent of the audience were familiar with the text we still wallow in Rattigan's consummate skill.
Terence Rattigan has very quickly become one of my favourite
playwrights, his dialogue is so intelligent, witty and meaty, his
characterisation so dynamic, complex and real and the storytelling so
Along with 'The Browning Version' and 'Separate Tables', 'The Winslow Boy' is an example of Rattigan at his best. This is a fabulous adaptation of the play. It is very deliberately paced, but suitably intimate and because the dialogue and acting is so good it still is interesting, though occasionally it falls into stodginess.
Some may wonder about there only being one set, but that's what it's meant to be like. The set is very beautifully furnished and entrances and exits consummately staged, even when very confined, while the costumes are true to period and very opulent. The photography is also very nicely done, if with a somewhat 1970s TV look.
Where this adaptation of 'The Winslow Boy' also excels is in the dynamic between the characters (like genuine sympathy and admiration for Arthur, Morton by Catherine's own words being a cold fish that one admires later on, amusement and then sympathy for Catherine and eventually intense dislike for John, also felt sorry for Desmond and never doubted Ronnie's innocence) and the writing, which provokes thought constantly, has tension (like in Morton's interrogation of Ronnie) and also some funny humour (especially with Morton and Catherine's "he's having his leg rubbed).
'The Winslow Boy's' storytelling gripped me throughout, and made me relate to the characters' bid for innocence and justice, dealt with intelligence and real meat. The acting is excellent, especially a sympathetic and moving performance from Eric Porter as Arthur and an unforgettable Alan Badel, suitably low-key and cold.
Michelle Dotrice is a very charming and witty Catherine, and Jonathan Scott Taylor's Ronnie is very appealing and easy to relate to. The John of David Robb is just a touch dull however at first, though he does convince in making one dislike, even detest, the character in his treatment of Catherine. Ann Beach is a hoot as Violet, Diana Fairfax sympathetic as Grace and Jonathan Adams's Desmond allows one to feel sorry for him.
All in all, beautifully acted and just fabulous on the whole. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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