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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Set in 1912 and based on an actual event, David Mamet's "The Winslow
Boy" is the story of an upper-class family whose 13 year-old son
(Ronnie Winslow- a naval college cadet) is accused of stealing and
cashing a five shilling postal order.
Expelled from school, Ronnie returns home terrified of his father's reaction. But Arthur Winslow (superbly played by Nigel Hawthorne) isn't angry. Instead, he believes his boy to have been wrongly accused. And so with the help of his suffragette daughter (Catherine) and esteemed attorney Sir Robert Morton, Arthur sets out to clear his son's name.
What follows is a beautifully written legal drama. But unlike "The Verdict" (also written by Mamet), there are no courtroom scenes here. No tense battles between lawyers or nail biting cross examinations, Mamet film revoking the usual legal maneuvers and opting instead to explore a family's determination to retain its dignity.
But how can they remain dignified when their case becomes a nationwide news story? How can they remain dignified when their steadfast belief in their son is mocked by journalists and newspapers? How can they remain dignified when the British Parliament argues the case in the House of Lords? How can they remain dignified when the family suffers financial loss, much self-doubt, media scrutiny and even the break-off of Catherine's engagement to a status-sensitive snob (Aden Gillett)?
"A fine old rumpus," the maid calls it all. And indeed it is. As Arthur's health deteriorates, his steadfast wife demands to know why he's sacrificing the family's well-being. "For justice!" he says. "Are you sure it's not pride and self-importance?" she counters.
Of course, this being a David Mamet film - all Mamet's films are con games - "The Winslow Boy" is also a film about misdirection. On the surface, we're asked to wonder whether or not the Winslow Boy is really guilty, whilst below the surface, Mamet works in another layer of misdirection. On this level, every character is lying, every one of them misdirecting the audience by putting on a false facade.
In this regard, every character's behaviour is precisely the opposite of their actual beliefs. So the father cares not for his son but rather his own family honour. The Winslow boy is guilty and stands embarrassed out in the rain. The older son is broke, hates his father and shall be shipped off to war, yet he accepts it all with cheerful good faith. Similarly, the maid, who always enters frame when there is talk of no money, is ambivalent to the fact that she will surely be fired soon.
Then there's the three way relationship between the hotshot lawyer, the Winslow daughter and her fiancé. Her fiancé pretends to love her, yet leaves as soon as the case gains momentum, whilst she pretends to fight for women's independence (she's a suffragette) despite being entirely dependent on her family/men for her income. Similarly, the hotshot lawyer pretends to take the case because he believes the boy to be innocent, when in fact he's simply after the boy's attractive sister. When he confides to his friend that he has turned down a promotion to take the case, he does so knowing that this news will be confided to her, thus making him seem more appealing in her eyes.
The entire film is thus an exercise in misdirection, the film communicating one thing while the truth sits just below the surface. The artifice is all a lie, a slick Edwardian card trick. End result: we're so busy looking for clues of the kid's innocence, that we don't realize that the whole family is guilty.
8.5/10 - Worth two viewings.
If you are a lover of English period pieces, the cast and synopsis of this movie is enough to create an anticipation of a pleasurable viewing experience. You may then find the first half of the film disappointing. The story engages the viewer only weakly, and there is a vagueness about the way the action unfolds. The actors' performances seem to have been captured a rehearsal or two short of a good take, or may be suffering from weak direction. The script is also patchy and pedestrian, suggesting it is fairest to lay the blame at the feet of director/screenplay writer Mamet. Such sterling actors as Nigel Hawthorne and Gemma Jones struggle to make an impression, with only the spirited Rebecca Pidgeon making much of her part. This is until the appearance on the scene of Jeremy Northam as barrister Sir Robert Morton. Northam is powerful in his screen presence and unerring in his delivery down to the smallest touch. His acting range as demonstrated so far may not be huge, but for this reviewer he can do no wrong. The subtly expressed and low key sexual tension between his character and Rebecca Pidgeon's character gives the audience something to be interested in, in this stodgy film. The final few exchanges are classic. Where was the sure touch demonstrated in the last few minutes, for the rest of the film? It's worth it though.
This story of pursuing a case at all costs seems typically British. Underlying the main theme of proclaiming this young boy innocent of stealing a minute amount of cash is the superb glance at life in a privileged English household at the turn of the century. Life definitely happened at a slower pace. While some may think it moved at a ponderous pace, I am glad I rented the video so I could stop and go back to be certain of their words. The broken engagement was what "one could expect" of the upper class at that time. They were so afraid of being tainted by adverse publicity. I only hope that Sir Robert's and Catherine's paths crossed at a later date.
Terence Rattigan's 1946 play, "The Winslow Boy", is a stodgy warhorse that is every bit as affected and phony as they come. The playwright obviously understands his target audience and ingratiates himself to that end by accommodating middle class values and pretensions, mocking them with kid gloves, in order to elicit pathos that seemed unearned and underhanded. In the film version, David Mamet makes no attempt to update the work or conceal its fake premise: "let right be done" excepting the poor and underprivileged with no political clout or monetary means to avail themselves of a prominent lawyer to bail themselves and their ego out of such predicament. It is unlikely that anyone will overlook the age-old myth that the middle class can have it all. Give up the prospects of marrying a military officer, who conveniently turns out to be a cad, and hold out for a rich lawyer who can not only restore the family's honor but provide an even better physical match for a dutiful, self-sacrificing daughter and suffragette, and you will walk away with everything in the end. It is clear that Mamet, like Rattigan, knows precisely who his target audience is and milks it for all it is worth, vanity and all.
Just saw the 1948 movie, The Winslow Boy. In scene after scene, the staging, script, and even the gestures of the actors were copied in the 1999 remake. So much of what I thought were dialogues written by Mamet and Mamet's direction is NOT original. The original play and screenplay are more than 95% of what you saw in 1999. Even more disappointing to me was that Mamet cut some very good scenes and dialogue that provided the perspective of the barrister's reasoning, for why he took the case. The cross-examination of the boy is much more cogent in the 1948 version. A detail concerning the boy's smoking is played out among the other characters, a beautiful subtle detail that Mamet eliminated. So, see the 1948 movie and enjoy Robert Donat and the other actors. Then, wonder as I did, how this remake came to be a "Mamet" play.
Not a patch on the original, which starred the great Robert Donat and the lovely Margaret Leighton. This film however did bring Jeremy Northam to my attention who was superb in this and anything I've seen him in, that's why I've given it 7. I thought the woman playing Catherine was rubbish and let the whole production down. She had none of the subtlety or underplayed pathos of Margaret Leighton, they might as well of had a wooden puppet playing the part. Nigel Hawthorne put in a creditable performance. One of the comic highlights of the original is Katherine Harrison's loud, cockney maid. The girl in this film seemed to sleep walk her way through the scenes, which should have made you sit up and at least smile. In fact that just about sums up Mamet's directorial style-somnambulent. If you want to see the definitive version though check out Donat and Co. you even get the screenplay written by the Author!
A peculiar and, I think, almost radical film. The plot is as that of
countless other courtroom dramas, individuals against the might of state.
However, set in pre-war London the drama of the film is almost conceptual,
with the characters playing out their lines from behind a veil of propriety.
This has its point, made after the denouement concerning the nature of law
(Northam's relatively flambouyant law lord Morton warns against the
indulging emotion in pursuit of justice/right).
I can't see the justification here. Despite the undeniable tension in the narrative that the dialogue builds (I'd imagine it's all very close to the stage play) I keep having to suspend my dismay in what looks like disastrously bad acing in order to keep watching - especially in scenes where there is layered dialogue and the lines tend more toward texture.
Out of all of this does come a miraculously balanced performance from Nigel Hawthorne. Whether he's just much better than everyone else (undeniable) or has ignored the injunction to deliver lines divorced from their emotive impetus (possible) he manages to draw in the themes of the serious vs folly, legal machination vs romance, the corruption of state vs the irreducible core of faith and integrity like satellites. It's amazing.
The support is able but subordinated - Mamet's (well researched and well dressed) exercise has its use but as an object in itself. 5/10
Good reviews, and seeing that David Mamet wrote the screenplay and
directed, made me to see this film so I rented it and, of course, was
disappointed. In a nutshell, it was boring and it feature a very
annoying lead character in "Catherine Winslow" (Rebecca Pidgeon). Her
feminist agenda was a little too strong to swallow, like Kate Winslet's
super-irritating role in "The Titanic." It's not a bad film, just not
interesting enough and one of those movies that after an hour, you
realize you don't care about any of the major characters.
One thing I did appreciate: the dry humor. In fact, it was refreshingly dry. (I've always appreciate sarcasm, unless it's too strong against by beliefs, of course!) It's also a period costume film, set in the early 1900s, an era I like.
One question: why wasn't this the courtroom drama it was supposed to be? Instead, we get all this feminist agenda and stupid romance between two idiots. Also, it's supposed to also center around the title - the Winslow boy. Where was he? He took a backseat, far back in this stagy yawner.
Mamet's "Hannibal," "The Spanish Prisoner," and "Ronin" are all far superior work to this one.
The original version of this film had Robert Donat as the lawyer,
Morton, Cedric Hardwicke as father Winslow, and was an extremely clever
and involving piece.
This remake came along when least expected, but was no less relevant or entertaining. In the role of Morton this time is Jeremy Northam - something of a film darling after portraying Mr Knightley to Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma - with Nigel Hawthorne as the father of the boy who might or might not have stolen a postal order.
Guy Edwards plays Ronnie, the accused boy, effectively, and the story - although slight and somewhat preposterous to modern eyes - continues to engage and involve the viewer as it always did.
David Mamet's film of 'The Winslow Boy' did fairly well at the box office and was an intelligent film, sticking to what it did best without resorting to cheap sensationalism or unnecessary updates.
Mamet films do exactly what they say on the tin. They're always well-written, have a great cast and exude class. This film is no different, even if it marks a distinction from most of his other work. Hawthorne and Pidgeon are excellent (as always). The tale grips you, there are some wonderful one-liners; and it's just a lot better than most of what's out there.
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