The Tichborne Claimant (1998)

Not Rated  |   |  Drama  |  12 November 1999 (UK)
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Based on a true story, set in the late 19th century: Lord Tichborne, the ninth richest nobleman in England, disappears after a South American shipwreck. Some years later his erudite ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
The Claimant
Lord Rivers
Rachael Dowling ...
Mary Anne
James Villiers ...
Uncle Henry
Dudley Sutton ...
Onslow Onslow
Paola Dionisotti ...
The Dowager
Perry Fenwick ...
John Holmes
Tom McCabe ...
Christopher Benjamin ...
John Challis ...
Rous the Landlord


Based on a true story, set in the late 19th century: Lord Tichborne, the ninth richest nobleman in England, disappears after a South American shipwreck. Some years later his erudite Afro-English valet, Bogle, is sent to investigate rumors that Tichborne survived and settled in Australia. An alcoholic ruffian answer's Bogle's inquiries claiming to be the lost heir. Bogle suspects fraud, but conspires with the claimant to split the inheritance should the latter succesfully pass himself off to friends, family and the courts. As the claimant returns to England to continue his charade, enough people confirm his identity to make both the claimant and Bogle believe that he just might be the rightful heir after all... Written by Grace Nall <>

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Release Date:

12 November 1999 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Tichbornes arv  »

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The last film of both James Villiers and 'Charles Gray'. See more »

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User Reviews

At least the lawyers got paid
20 March 2002 | by (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

The Tichborne family had lived in Hampshire since at least the 12th century and come to own a large hunk of it; thus when Roger Tichborne, heir to rent rolls worth 25,000 pounds a year, disappeared at sea in 1854, it's not surprising someone tried to pass himself off as the real Roger. A Wagga Wagga butcher called Arthur Orton took up the challenge and managed to convince many people, including Roger's mother, but the estate trustees were never convinced, and fought Orton's civil case, which ran for 102 days in 1871-72. Orton, who spent 22 days in the witness box being cross-examined, lost the case, and was indicted for perjury. The criminal trial, which lasted 188 days, went over much the same ground, but with even more witnesses, and resulted in Orton's conviction and sentence to 14 years penal servitude. He served 10 years and later confessed in print to his fraud.

This film suggests that the Tichborne affair was as much about the nature of aristocracy as the lure of big money. Orton was not a very prepossessing character, a crude, drunken, overweight boor of a man. The late Roger was not up to much either – a failed army officer, also a drunk, who had gone to sea after a cousin had turned down his marriage proposal. Roger's former West Indian valet, Bogle, it is suggested, had a grudge against the Tichborne family and trained up Orton to be an aristocrat for the purposes of deceiving them (in return for half the estates).

Once or twice Orton `remembers'things which are quite extraordinary, but there are huge gaps in his knowledge of Roger and his background. The real Roger was brought up in Paris by his French mother, learned English as a second language in his teens and spoke English with a French accent. Orton tried to account for his ignorance of French by pleading memory loss from an accident (‘in Tasmania') but clearly the jury did not believe him. Unlike Professor Higgins in `My Fair Lady' Bogle does not succeed in transforming the cloddish Orton into an aristocrat, but the point is made that aristocrats are made, not born, and that the man with the big estate has no particular moral superiority.

Robert Pugh as the claimant puts in a full-blooded, theatrical performance – entirely appropriate since he goes on music hall stages drumming up support for his cause during the film. He is supported by a gallery of accomplished players in minor parts – Charles Gray and James Villiers as two non-believing family members, Robert Hardy as a sympathetic neighbour, Stephen Fry as Hawkins, the family's barrister, and John Gielgud as Cockburn CJ (who in reality presided only over the criminal trial). The producer Tom McCabe plays Kenealy, Orton's inept and paranoid Irish barrister (who in reality appeared only in the criminal case). The pivotal part of Bogle is coolly portrayed by the South African actor John Kali, a dead ringer for Nelson Mandela. For understandable reasons the scriptwriters have compressed the two trials into one; for completely inexplicable reasons they have changed the dates, moving Roger's disappearance forward to 1866 and the trial to the late 1870s. But the film does at least capture some of the atmosphere, and explain why, sometimes, the more improbable a story, the more likely people are to believe it. One footnote: the firm of solicitors who took Orton's case for him, Norton, Rose & Co, survived the calamity and today flourish as a large and prestigious City firm.

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