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Terrance Rattigan's oft-produced melodrama THE WINSLOW BOY seems a radical departure for Mamet from the stuff of con-men, losers, presidential conspiracies, sexual harassment and billionaires bear hunting with pointy sticks. In fact, Mamet -- who it was once fashionable to dismiss as a misogynist -- has made his first woman's movie, and a feminist one at that. (No, it's not TITANIC.) At first glance, there would seem little to distinguish it from a dry, little BBC production. But small and dry is just how Mamet likes it, the stiff manners of Victorian England a perfect venue for his controlled dialogue. Language is of course what Mamet is all about and Rattigan's play on a petty-theft trial that became media sensation in Edwardian England, conjures a time when language was the both the finest virtue, and instrument of sexual repression. Words are whispered and obscured by sudden walls. Letters are hidden and read silently alone. Words damn and redeem, leaving the audience to guess just how strongly the characters actually believe in their pursuit of petty justice. Don't expect a riveting court-room drama though, unfortunately Mamet doesn't expand much beyond the walls of the Father Winslow's study -- rather, off-screen events are conveyed by news-boys, maids and other stand-ins for Greek chorus. Mamet was attracted to this convention as it followed the antique rule of `don't show the unshowable.' REBECCA PIGEON shines in the role of Kate Winslow, the suffragette who wants to, and could be, a lawyer. Here she walks about icily sexy (occasionally sporting the same sunglasses she wore in THE SPANISH PRISONER), her wooden intonations ever contrasting with her deeply expressive face and sly manner. (Seeing her in person, I dare say, it seems like Mamet is frumping her up a bit for the camera, I suppose for reality's sake, because in person, she's supernaturally beautiful. There're some great bits on smoking cigarettes, which doubles as sex between her and JEREMY NORTHAM who plays Sir Robert, the arrogant lawyer who takes on the case for publicity, then justice and possibly love. Ultimately, the movie is a handsome, satisfying, if low-key, plea for siding with the common over the great and letting "right be done," but if you found the Spanish Prisoner boring, I would steer clear. I didn't talk to a single woman who didn't like this movie, though. When asked "why this radical departure," Mamet replied, "how so?" and then quoted Major Pat Buckly's most important thing he ever learned, "While life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand in stone; kindness, mostly trouble; courage and your own."
David Mamet has written and directed his first non-original film. He has adapted it from the 50 year old Terence Rattigan play which is a legal drama without a courtroom scene. Jeremy Northam stars as an attorney (barrister) in early 20th century England who has been retained to clear the name of a young boy who has been accused of theft and forgery and summarily dismissed from military school. His father (Nigel Hawthorne) and sister (Rebecca Pidgeon) crusade to bring this case to court with aid of Northam. In the process they effect the lives of everyone in their lower middle class family. Their family has their 15 minutes fame. Was it all really worth it? It was the O.J. case of its day. Almost the entire film is set in the Winslow family home. The courtroom drama takes place off-screen and we are privy only to the repercussions of the case on the family. Performances are excellent. Hawthorne and Gemma Jones (Mrs. Winslow) beautifully mirror the mores and customs of the times. Emotion is rarely outwardly shown. However, it is right there simmering beneath the surface. Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamet's real life wife) is a suffragette whose engagement is threatened by the notoriety of the case. Mamet has filmed the story in his deliberate stately manor. Even the speech patterns of the principals telegraphs the repressions of that age. The production is quite modest compared with the other English dramas of recent years (Howard's End, Remains of the Day, Emma, Sense & Sensibility). However, the whole is satisfying and you'll leave the theater wishing to see what happens to Northam and Pidgeon after their ultimate scene.
this is another directing attempt by David Mamet, and as usual he uses
it as a vehicle to employ the mainly unemployable actors in his family.
in most of his directorial projects he has produced films so stiff and wooden, and it amazes me that he sometimes finds excellent actors to appear in them. and it must be because as bad a director as he is, he can be just as brilliant a writer.
i think Mamet chose, this time, a stiff cultural period which would hide his wooden direction, and his wife's poor acting. and it worked to a degree.
the problem is that Mamet has gone to england and short circuited a perfect machine for turning out perfect period pieces. it is what the English film industry does best.
his direction has sedated actors, worthy of giving a lively performance, and inspired little more than a walk-through of the lines: sedately matching the abilities of his wife.
it all ends up in a mediocre effort. i wish Mamet should stick to writing, but he probably arrogantly believes he is the only director that can do justice to his words. interviews i've seen by the man, back this belief.
If you're fond of good dialogs, good acting and good movies...go and
rent this one. I didn't expect much when I rented it, and it was a big
surprise. I don't know if this movie would work that well with a
different cast, but they seem to be made to be part of it. I've read
some bad comments about Rebecca Pigeon but in my opinion she's perfect
for the part, she acts natural. I didn't find anything that I didn't
like, which is something difficult to say about most of the movies.
Summarizing, this movie confirms that with a few exceptions, David Mamet keeps giving us something interesting in every movie. Before this one I had only seen The Spanish prisoner,
Subtlety, restraint and reserve are the hallmarks of this beautifully crafted version of a classic piece of theater. The characters are all flawlessly created by a cast of brilliant actors. Jeremy Northam is amazing in everything he does but never better than in this film where he plays a politician who takes the case with reservations and then sticks with it risking his own future by his courageous stand in defense of a young boy who seems guilty but swears he is innocent. The sacrifices each person in the family makes to uphold the family honor and name is an inspiration and the sexual chemistry between Jeremy Northam's character and that of Catherine Winslow who plays the feminist older sister of the title character is like a smoldering ember about to burst into flame.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS - The primary theme of Mamet's version of "The Winslow Boy" is that
men will do all sorts of things, some very strange, for their search for a
mate. In the end, Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam) sticks with the case,
and wins, because of his deep attraction for the sister, Catherine, expertly
played by Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon. Nepotism takes a further step in
using Rebecca's real brother, Matthew, as her brother in the film. However,
he does a fine job, and we have no difficulty picturing them as brother and
"The Winslow Boy", based on a stage play, had been done 4 times previously on film, the first in 1948. It is set in early 1900s, before the first big war, and the "boy" is expelled from military school, accused of stealing and cashing a money order through forgery. He tells dad "I didn't do it", dad believes him, enlists Sir Morton to handle his case. Catherine's fiancee, a military man, jilts her during the process, under pressure from his father. All very proper British.
At the end, the "boy" reacts, "We won. How about that?" Leaves open the question of whether he really was guilty. Nonetheless, the story is not about his guilt nor his innocence. It is about the effect such a turmoil has on a family, and potential relationships. Catherine vows to continue her feminist activities, and Sir Morton vows to see her again. Ah, the power of women on seemingly strong men!!
A good film from Mamet. And, I really do like Rebecca Pidgeon. Outside Mamet's films, she is an underrated actor.
I am an admirer of Mamet's writing more than his filmmaking. This film was
entertaining mainly because of good acting, a fine original play by
Rattigan, and a fine adaptation of the original by Mamet.
I saw reviews that were not appreciative of Rebecca Pidgeon in this film--but I found her fascinating with her controlled acting. I wish she works with other acclaimed directors. Miou-Miou became famous as an actress who could talk with a mouthful of food in French movies; here a "hungry" Rebecca nibbles at her sandwich to deliver her lines properly. She has talent but she needs to go beyond the English stage rules.
Hawthorne and Northam give fine performances.
On the DVD: The director-and-wife voice over gave very little information on what the director did but gave more information on how his wife loved the costumes and how great the wife's brother was...An excellent example of how not do the director's commentary. In contrast see the DVD of John Sayle's "Limbo," which is so much more informative and entertaining.
I've just seen this on DVD as I missed it on it's brief general release here
in the UK. This play is excellent on stage where the constraints of live
theatre mean much happens off stage and has to be reported by those on
stage. Sometimes where not much happens off stage a filming can work - see
Asquith's 'Importance of being Earnest' for a good example.
Filming such a play means you can open it out and this cried out for it. There are some scenes in Parliament sure but we needed a bit of the courtroom drama. The dramatic scene between Morton and the boy comes off rather low key here, whereas it is brilliant and intense on stage.
There is very good acting here and the restrained emotions typical of the British middle classes then (and now for that matter) but with just a little more opening out this could have been so much better.
The play was based on a real life case of 1912 called the Archer-Shee case - the boy was killed in the First Worl War. The First Lord of the Admiralty (or minister for the Royal Navy for our overseas readers) then was Winston Churchill I believe. Mamet's made a bit of a point with the casting of the First Lord in his version.
The 1949 version is better in my book.
After the Spanish Prisoner, which I consider Mamet's most
accomplished film and the finest example of his skills as
storyteller, The Winslow boy comes as a disappointment.
Try as he may, Mamet never communicates why this trial captured England's imagination nor how it was emblematic of the nation's discontent. Moreover, some highly significant events are merely alluded to rather than shown, leaving one with the uncomfortable sense that this was a project the filmmakers, for whatever their reasons, were in a hurry to finish.
I generally like the dialogue in David Mamet's films very much, and "The
Winslow Boy" is no disappointment in that respect. The dialogue is quick,
intelligent, and skillfully layered. The lighting also is a surprise--quite
expressive and textured for a "little" historical film.
Even so, the emotions in this film are so repressed that there is very little dynamic at all to the drama. While the performances are all good, I found the boy's character to be less compelling than the rest of the cast; this problem is compounded by the fact that is is hardly on the screen at all during the second half of the film, which gives us even less opportunity to connect with him.
But the biggest (dramatically speaking) problem I had with the film is that the major plot point--the courtroom scenes and the ultimate legal decision--is played totally off screen! It seemed as though, rather than dramatizing the story of "The Winslow Boy", Mamet decided at some point to instead angle for the romantic interest between the lawyer and the Winslow sister, as well as her struggle for women's suffrage. Admittedly, these were interesting developments, but they both proved to be dead ends that only served to dilute the overall effect.
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