on December 23, 2002
This film has been shown in history classes in both Britain and the USA, and rightfully so. CROMWELL is a powerful, albeit uneven, movie depicting the struggle between Parliament and the crown that ultimately led to the English Civil War.
Alec Guinness as King Charles I is simply superb. This gifted actor brings the insecure monarch to life before our very eyes, from his indecision to his eventual desperation to save his thrown--even his slight stuttering problem. Indeed it was Charles himself, by attempting in secret to form alliances with Catholic Ireland and France in order to defeat Cromwell's army, who was the catalyst to his own demise.
Richard Harris is good, but somewhat over the top, as the brooding Oliver Cromwell, the musical score is nothing short of annoying, and the movie succumbs to the gushy melodrama characteristic of the time in which it was made. But despite its flaws, CROMWELL delivers a satisfying story about a turbulent time in English history.
on January 12, 2007
visually, this is a stunning film. and also a neglected topic. this period of history is usually dismissed for a variety of reasons, typically because Cromwell seems to modern sensibilities as a kind of Taliban-style leader, a moralistic monster, hell-bent on forcing his religious beliefs/moral outlook on a resistant populace. likewise, many of the Puritan leaders seem officious, overbearing and oppressive.
it's also all to easy to lose sight of this: much of Europe's then royalty supported each other to the detriment of their supporting subjects. also easy to miss is this is the time when national identities begin to assert themselves. for all the negativity that's usually been attributed to Cromwell, the man himself wanted nothing more than to return to the England of Elizabeth's time when national safety and security had been toally affirmed with the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Charles Stuart, on the other hand, seemed the antithesis of all that.
what results is a study in democratic to and fro that reverberates down until today. impossible to forget, undeniably provocative and so ably acted by a tremendous cast. I felt so fortunate to acquire a film that I hadn't seen since it's original release.
on May 16, 2016
Cromwell has King Charles's head chopped off because Charles dissolved Parliament and ruled England without. Cromwell's first act on coming into power is to dissolve Parliament and rule England without. I have often wondered how often during his half-decade as Lord Protector Ollie lay awake in bed thinking along these lines: "You know, old Charlie was right about that bunch, after all."
I first saw this film (it takes itself a little too seriously for me to call it a "movie") in London, where I was visiting at the time of its 1970 premiere. It was heralded as so totally historically accurate that one scene had to be re-shot because one of Cromwell's famous warts fell off the first time. The souvenir booklet featured a specially-written article by a respected historian on the battles. I fear that all this ultimately did it less than no service. In 1970, I was utterly steeped in that period of English history, and almost fell out of my seat laughing at the inaccuracies. It should have been heralded as "based on, rather loosely," rather than "depicting with absolute historical fidelity."
For starters, what is the Earl of Manchester doing sitting in the House of Commons? What is Cromwell's name doing on that infamous list of five members whom the king comes in person to arrest? Worry about accuracy with Cromwell's warts and not about accuracy as to his never actually having been on that list?
Now that both the film and myself are nearly half a century older, and my interest in the Martyr King and his world reawakened, I watch "Cromwell" again with appreciation for what it is, rather than what it was falsely advertised to be. Yes, Mancester belongs in the House of Lords: but putting him there prominently visible in the House of Commons scenes helped pad out a rich part for Robert Morley as the kind of corrupt and cowardly bully we love to hate. No, Cromwell's name was not one of the five: but pretending it was allowed the filmmakers to point up the conflicts of their drama with a little added tense dialog that makes for a rather powerful scene. And while they give Cromwell a famous short pre-battle prayer that was in fact prayed by a Royalist, at least it is authentic to the English Civil War. In short, provided you no more expect a history lesson than you can get from one of Shakespeare's "historical" plays, you may find this worth watching. And where it does look researched, as with the scenes of the king's execution, it looks both convincing and visually luxurious.
I have long been a fan of England's Charles I, who tried so hard to be at once a good man and a good king, failing rather notoriously in the "king" part, but quite possibly succeeding pretty well in the "man" part. As both man and king, he appears never to have forgiven himself for signing Strafford's death warrant -- the filmmakers may have suggested this, but so lightly I'm not sure I would have guessed it had I not read the EIKON BASILIKA and various biographical studies. And as king, Charles certainly appears to play falsely. But I could not see that Cromwell as depicted here really does much better in that department, seeming as he does to shape his strict sense of personal and public honor very much to his own interpretations and impressions of the immediate moment -- though no doubt he considers this as struggling with his conscience and his God.
The film I think makes Cromwell a bit too prominent throughout the whole Civil War period from the Parliament of 1640 on. And I couldn't helpt but be amused when he brings back a new Puritan army whom he must have spent as much time training to sing as to fight, their marching-to-battle chorale sounding -- at least to my poor and unreliable ears -- so much better than that of the earlier sorry ragtag of Parliamentary forces. I'm not sure whether their singing was a practical necessity to make them better soldiers, or a dramatic device to let the audience know at once that this time they were going to win.
But Charles I, especially as portrayed to absolute perfection by the great Alec Guinness, slight stammer and all, is such an engaging figure, that for dramatic balance they almost had to focus strongly on Cromwell from the outset. And since our own world has been shaped much more by Cromwell's ideas of government than by those of Charles, it was only natural to make him the eponymous "hero." Although watching it again (twice so far), I cannot feel that it in any way shows a struggle between "good guys" and "bad guys," but rather between two sides struggling equally to meet its notion that "God fights for US."
For myself, I regard this DVD as a keeper, if only for Sir Alec Guinness as King Charles.
on August 2, 1999
This film does a fairly good job of representing Cromwell and the conflict with King Charles I. Alec Guinness certainly looks the part of Charles. Some comments by previous negative reviewers are outrageous and totally unwarranted. Cromwell was a complicated figure, with good and bad characteristics, but was nowhere near the level of a Hitler-like dictator as one reviewer suggests. Richard Harris's performance suggests some of the ambiguity of Cromwell's nature. Cromwell did do a lot for religious toleration. He was not a raving lunatic like some would have you believe. Warfare and politics were ruthless in those days, and Cromwell sometimes had to follow suit.
on March 22, 2013
Just viewed the movie "Cromwell." It's well worth viewing. The cinematography is wonderful, the battle sequences were well choreographed and filmed, and the film score is not too bad either.
Harris doesn't over act as he is often apt to do. Harris does a very good job at portraying Oliver Cromwell (aka Cromwell the Protector). He clearly conveys to the viewer Cromwell's desire to see Charles I remain on the throne as king in a constitutional monarchy, while reminding both King Charles I (played by Sir Alec Guinness) and Queen Henrietta Maria (played by Dorothy Tutin) that the time has come in England for a constitutional monarchy and that the people would rather be asked than ordered - something that our politicians have forgotten and desperately need to re-learn.
Sir Alec Guinness does a wonderful job portraying King Charles I. He does a masterful job in bringing to the screen the tragic character that he would become through intrigue at court and the negotiations he was conducting with the enemies of England at the urging of the Queen and others at court that led him to being charged with high treason against the English Parliament and the English people.
Dorothy Tutin did a wonderful job portraying Queen Maria. Being a non English Queen she projects the disdain for government by the people and for the people. She projects the notion of the divine right of kings prevalent with monarchies on the European continent. In her refusal to understand and embrace the constitutional monarchy that England was becoming, see ended up giving Charles I very bad advice that not only plunged England into civil war, but would cause her and their son Prince Charles II to flee England and would cause King Charles I to commit high treason against the people of England and ultimately lead to his arrest, trial, conviction and execution.
At just under 2 1/2 hours viewing time, it's a film worth seeing.
A valiant and not entirely successful attempt at a very English 'thinking-man's' epic, Cromwell is one of the most interesting of the historical dramas of the early seventies - and also one of the most flawed.
The first third of the film is very ropey indeed, with banal dialogue full of stilted clichés (the best lines are from history, not Ronald Hardwood or Ken Hughes), a very mannered performance Richard Harris and a clumsy dilution of history. It is only too easy to think that the English Civil War was fought because Cromwell didn't get on with the King's wife and that it was won and lost on the outcome of two battles.
The first battle scene is surprisingly weak - even the extras die unconvincingly - and it is not until its aftermath and the training of the New Model Army that the film really finds its feet and gets some fire in its belly. Hughes saves his visual imagination for the Battle of Naseby, (long since turned into a motorway by the decree of an ungrateful Parliament) and gives a surprisingly gripping account of its aftermath that puts some humanity into the history.
As a warts and all portrait, the wart is most definitely missing but Richard Harris' Cromwell is a complex and convincing character, always being forced into action rather than forcing events. Alec Guinness' Charles I is also a considered portrait, a mixture of integrity and pragmatic duplicity (recalling Parliament to raise finance for a war with the Scots, he ends up allied to his enemies against his own politicians) that is entirely understandable and on occasion even sympathetic.
The cast of supporting players for the most part prove rather less convincing. Nigel Stock is quietly impressive as the King's ultimately disillusioned confidante and Geoffrey Keen solidly reliable as ever as one of Cromwell's political allies; but while Timothy Dalton's Prince Rupert of the Rhine cuts a dash as he brings his pooch into battle on his arm, Patrick Wymark's Royal advisor is a parody worthy of Blackadder the Third - as Guinness points out, "You're too loud, Lord Stafford. It is most unpleasant to the ear."
The first hour has no driving force or feeling of the relentless rush towards an irreversible destiny: the force of history is almost totally absent. Similarly, it does not really gain that much in Scope. Geoffrey Unsworth's photography is ill-served by the production and costume design and Hughes lack of visual sense. Indeed, much of this first third is surprisingly slipshod. There are some very clumsy edits, both on sound and picture and Frank Cordell's often damaging score offers an object lesson in how not to score a film.
Where Miklos Rozsa and Dimitri Tiomkin integrated their grandiose style into the fabric of the drama, composer Frank Cordell points every action with sledgehammer subtlety with crescendos on every move and under every key line of dialogue. Atrociously spotted with no faith in the audience's intelligence, there is too much Benjamin Britten in Cordell's music, which is more of an opera than a film score. Some of the problem can be put down to the appalling mixing that results in the score overpowering a scene rather than underplaying it. Only in the preparations for battle does it gain the grim restraint it needs to work.
Not a great film - for that it really needed a better script, score and director - but, after a very bad start, a very good one.
Some of the opening credits are so finely printed that they are unreadable (as they are on the video) but otherwise the print quality is quite superb, as if taken from a brand new print, though lovers of the roadshow era will be disappointed that Columbia have removed the Overture and well-timed Intermission. And what happened to the original stereo? Tut tut.
on May 4, 2013
Although it takes it's liberties of compressing time and oversimplifying the era, there is no question that the film serves as a valuable basic historical resource, a good primer for further study of a rather fascinating historical subject and a troubled period of English History, although it ignores the bloodiest and most savage parts of the period and does not even touch on Cromwell's savage subjugation of Ireland and therefore does not give a completely accurate picture of this man. A very good cast.
on February 25, 2008
I stumbled across this relatively obscure movie as I was looking for material to show in class on Cromwell. I wanted something to capture the personality and character of this important figure in British History. Though the movie is flawed on many facts, Richard Harris's perfomance shows how Cromwell could have been motivated to rise to his place in history. Also, Alec Guinness steals the scenes he is in as Charles I. I would like to have seen more about Cromwell's leadership as "Lord Protector" and how he justified the atrocities he committed during the Irish Wars. The movie has some great battle scenes and the costumes are wonderful. Great action movie, but plays loose with the details.
on September 19, 2011
This film is well-done and the battles, military or political, are clear enough in spite of the numerous ellipses due to the extremely dense and long period covered by the film from 1640 to 1650 or so. Yet it does not really explain who Cromwell was and if he had real objectives of his own beyond his religious rhetoric. It also clearly explains why this period could not go beyond that transitory and imperfect compromise of the least bad in a difficult period leaving the better and the best for later.
The film depicts a king who was absolutely tied up in his feudal belief that he had been appointed by God and had no accounts to give to any one. This dominant feudal position was also the dominant legal position: there was no law and no jurisprudence that enabled a king to be dismissed by any authority other than death and God. On that question Cromwell represented a new point of view that had never existed anywhere else in the Christian world at the time. What does human society have to do in such a situation? Move on and let history do what it wants. So they moved on and had the king beheaded after a three days' hearing that could hardly qualify as a trial.
Could there have been a compromise moving towards any parliamentary democracy? No, for three main reasons. First the king was stubborn and probably not very swift, at least not able to understand that God is a very good fellow but that on earth we work with compromises and not absolute authority. Second parliament, or what was left of this long parliament, was not elected by the people as is repeated galore of times in the film, but only by a few tens of thousands of people: the propertied and business owning tax paying people and these people, landowners first, could have in their chattel some human serfs or indentured servants who were nothing but a property of some type. These of course, the vast majority of the people had no right to vote. Third Cromwell never accepted to move towards a wider and more open definition of democracy like the Levelers were asking and he even had one of their leaders hanged. In other words the two civil wars led to a draw and nothing else and the only way out was to disband parliament and to rule alone.
But the film - that is maybe too old for that - could have questioned history a little bit more and insisted on the essential and contradictory elements of the period. First it is Parliament that introduced for the first and only time in England a body of state censors to implement official censorship of anything published before publication. The discourse about religious freedom was in fact a very one-sided approach of that freedom: freedom provided the Catholics be chased and hunted, the Anglican church and all chapels have no bishops and archbishops, (which was nearly impossible to implement with the Anglican church, and yet they tried). It would have been interesting to show that tremendously sectarianism if not fundamentalism on the side of the moderate puritans like Cromwell as well as on the side of the most committed people beyond this revolution.
But the film is absolutely silent on the main subject: the economy. The great expansion to the Americas (northern essentially) but also to the Indian Ocean and to Africa, started under Elizabeth, went on under James I and Charles I, but also went on and even accelerated under Cromwell. But this great expansion was not paid by the Crown for the simple reason the Crown had no fleet whatsoever. The fleet was a merchant fleet in the hands of the mercantile societies and companies that started being set up, and the sailors were those of these companies ,including the militarized ones necessary for the security of that commerce. The Royal fleet was still to come and will be for some time still. If they had thought of that they would have understood the importance of this period in England: it liberated the energy of these merchants because many controls and obligations set under the kings were dropped or eased out.
That would also explain why Cromwell had to summon Parliament when he wanted to fight his naval war against Spain (essential for the development of maritime commerce), he had to go to Parliament to ask the Members of Parliament who directly represented or were the merchants in question to accept to lend their ships and their sailors to organize some fleet. That's what happened under Cromwell again.
That would also explain what we can think of the readiness of history to accept change. England was not ready for a true parliamentary system of the people for the people by the people. Free and general elections were not even thought of possible. The Industrial Revolution was not even in the making yet. And habeas corpus and other fundamental human rights were not yet even imagined. That will need the Restoration which will be a failure with the second king, James II, and the Glorious Revolution that will oust him. Cromwell at least had the great merit of not trying to force history, or at least not too much, and what he did more or less survived his time after the restoration. The beheading of the king was useless, probably a mistake as Tony Benn thought, but he refused to become a King in his place. He stopped short of the irreversible mistake that would have brought him down in less than a year probably. In other words he was on that point as prudent as Napoleon who did not take the title of King after the French Revolution.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
on December 30, 2013
This is a competent film. All of the actors do a great job. Alec Guiness is excellent as the tragic and doomed Charles Stuart I fighting to keep his head and crown. Richard Harris does a great job also in his performance as Cromwell. However, he portrays him as a man with no sense of humor. You wonder how his family could love him; and his prejudice against Catholic Christians is what has influenced this divide and bias in early American history even up to the first Catholic US presidential candidate JFK defending his religion against protestant pastors. The battle scenes are good and the scenes leading up to Charles' death are poignant and filled with bravery and faith. Overall an excellent production.