Customer Reviews: The Winslow Boy
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on December 10, 2003
I have probably watched this one 15-20 times. It's based on a true story, and there was evidently a play about it which preceded the film.
I saw it the second and the third time because the tenor was so appealing to me, the heroism of the father so compelling and the love story so masterfully executed. It could be the best ending I've ever seen on film. Furthermore, Mamet's grasp of that time and place was solid enough, that I was convinced he was born in England before the Second World War. And the acting was incredible -- particularly that of Jeremy Northam who admittedly had the best part, but also all the other major parts were played very, very well.
And then for a time with each new viewing, I saw things I hadn't seen before. The plot is so complete and well conceived, that I'm left a little breathless.
The central theme of the film, it seems to me, is "Let Right be done." Everybody gives up everything for Right. Only the incompetent maid doesn't observe any loss, though it is her unswerving faith that makes her impossible to fire. If she must go, then the point is lost somehow. So the entire ship sinks or floats as one. The father spends all the family money and sacrifices his health. The wayward older brother must leave Oxford. The daughter gives up her marriage. . All of it reasonably cheerfully. And for what? For Right. Yet on the surface, it seems "such a very trivial affair". A kid is accused of stealing a couple bucks. The discrepancy between the triviality of the case and the forces brought to bear upon it suggests something very powerful.
And then in the final sentence, everything is restored. It's beautiful.
All aspects of this problem of Right are addressed. It's not only about the comfort of the boy, whose life would be easier without the publicity. Nor is it about his honor. "The case has much wider implications than that." The father describes himself as fighting for `justice'. But it's not even about that.
It's about Right. The only thing that has the power to cause Sir Robert to show his emotions is when Right is done -- "very easy to do Justice, very hard to do Right." And I think it is because Sir Robert sees the distinction, that he is able to play the trick without losing his moral ground. He plays the trick to take control of the House of Commons, to discredit a witness, to determine whether the boy is telling the truth, and even to trip up Edmund Curry so he can seize the girl at a distance. Kate initially mistakes this trickiness for simple avarice, and although she lays into him for being so `passionless', she shares his capacity to keep a level head. Though they both do have their knee-jerk emotional responses. She falls for some guilty radical just because he takes on the establishment. And he's wrong about women's sufferage. But he shows his eligibility for her by sacrificing his career for Right. And she also demonstrates her eligibility for the big league by sacrificing for the cause of Right her only hope of a decent marriage. They make a very convincing pair.
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on February 24, 2000
The Winslow Boy is easily my favorite movie experience of 1999. There are too few films like this with its superb (and profanity-free!) dialogue and thought-provoking characterizations. I believe this new version's omission of the final courtroom dramatics (mentioned by an earlier reviewer) was a brilliant decision of director Mamet's. Here, the out-of-court dialogues and polite parlor interplay tell the story in crafty, ultimately revealing layers... Yes, there is a touch of ambiguity in some of the characters' motives which, for me, makes all the undercurrent discoveries more exciting and personal. These people are very real and express their feelings only to the point that real people tend to air their souls... which is to say, not that much! The subtle ambiguity reminds me of the novels of master-author Henry James. Intelligent, psychologically fascinating, detective-y almost, and romantic. It's beautifully directed -- Mamet excels at twisty, mind-bending plots and I think his trademark touches weave very well into a multi-character study like this one. The actors are universally charismatic and memorable. It's certainly Jeremy Northam's and Rebecca Pidgeon's best work... and when isn't Nigel Hawthorne amazing? He's brilliant here. And for such an elegant, mannered period movie, it gives off unexpected electricity. There's nothing like great dialogue to create great chemistry!
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on July 22, 2000
One of the most interesting films of '99, The Winslow Boy may not be for everyone. No cars careen around corners and explode, no guns are fired. Instead David Mamet (House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, Glengarry Glen Ross) in his movie adaption of Terrance Rattigan's ever popular British play, based on a true story, creates an English world of 1910 on the eve of WWI, women's sufferage and the rest of the modern age. With dramatic, precisely crafted dialogue he raises such questions as: the standing of the least before the highest, justice vs. moral truth, the costs of the pursuit of truth and the difficulty seperating truth from lies. Featuring Jeremy Northam (Emma, The Net), Nigel Hawthorne (Madness of King George), Rebecca Pigeon (Spanish Prisoner, and also David Mamet's wife), her brother Matthew Pigeon, Gemma Jones (Sense & Sensibility), Colin Stinton, and thirteen year old Guy Edwards as Ronnie Winslow, the accused. They all do fine job, but particularly outstanding are Northam as Sir Robert Morton, Hawthorne as the father Arthur Winslow, Jones as Grace Winslow and Edwards. Benoit Delhomme's John Singer Sargeant like cinema photography brings to life end of Victorian England. As Mamet wrote in Three Uses of the Knife: "During the O.J. Simpson occurred to me that a legal battle consisted not in a search for truth but in jockeying for the right to pick the central issue."
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This is a first-class David Mamet film of indirection, understatement and cool emotion. A young cadet at the Royal Naval Academy has been expelled for stealing a five-shilling postal order from another cadet. He swears to his father that he didn't do it and his father believes him. At that point Arthur Winslow (Nigel Hawthorne) becomes determined to prove his son innocent. He is rebuffed by the Admiralty because, as part of the Queen's government, the Admiralty can do no wrong and cannot be sued. He engages a famous solicitor, Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam), who agrees to take the brief. Morton eventually succeeds in bringing the case before the House of Commons on a petition of right, where even the lowest of the Queen's subjects can have the opportunity "to have right be done." All this takes years. The Winslow family suffers ridicule and financial distress. Arthur Winslow's daughter, Catherine (Rebecca Pidgeon), a prickly and intelligent suffragette, sees her opportunity for an advantageous marriage evaporate. His son is forced to leave Oxford and take a banking job. His wife sees so much of the security of the home vanish in the costs of the case. The case, based on a true happening, finally is won.

Mamet's screenplay is based on the Forties play by Terence Rattigan. It's a solid piece of work that keeps the story moving and concentrates on the characters. The interplay among the characters is excellent, especially between Catherine Winslow and Sir Robert Morton. The dialogue may be on the surface exquisitely courteous, but underneath runs unexpected currents that are a lot of fun to witness. Northam's Morton is smart, secure, successful and not at all sympathetic to suffragettes. But it gradually becomes clear he rather likes intelligent women and that the end of the case may not be the last Catherine Winslow sees of him:

Sir Robert Morton: You still pursue your feminist activities?
Catherine Winslow: Oh yes.
Sir Robert: Pity. It's a lost cause.
Catherine: Oh, do you really think so, Sir Robert? How little you know about women. Good-bye. I doubt that we shall meet again.
Sir Robert: Do you really think so, Miss Winslow? How little you know about men.

It has always seemed strange to me that those who like Mamet almost never mention this movie, yet it appears to me that this is one of his most solidly directed and written films. It may be that, like Scorsese's Age of Innocence, it just doesn't fit into preconceived notions of what the director's films should be like. At any rate, this is a clever and satisfying movie, and very well acted.
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on February 2, 2000
I saw this movie 6 months ago in a theater and was awed by its quality: not just the unfolding of the story, the crisp dialog, the restrain and efficiency of means, but also the great visual beauty of it, sharpness of details, etc. This DVD, though, looks like a cheap VHS tape visually: what happened? I am awfully disappointed. Somebody, tell me who bungled this gorgeous movie's DVD transfer?
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on December 31, 2005
When I first watched the Winslow Boy I had no idea what I was in for.

I should say for starters that this movie was cast with a brilliant array of actors. From Northam to Jones, this film was so much more then the quiet cover portrayed. I had never seen Jeremy Northam in a movie before and was thrilled to find yet another wonderful British actor.

The story of the Postal order and the family who tries to clear its name is wonderful. The family interacts like a true family would showing just enough affection without being sappy. Stiff upper lip and all that rot. I was fond of Dickie and his way of saying everything in such a P.C way. I loved the loving way that Arthur dealt with Ronnie....that was a beautiful scene. A father never wants to think that his son has lied to him, but the close relationship they had was lovely.

"For a lie cannot be had between us. I shall know it Ronnie. I shall know it. Did you steal this postal order?"

"No Father I didn't."

What a shame that more family can't share that kind of honesty. I was also touched by the way that everyone looked out for the boy. But I have to say that my favorite characters were Sir. Robert Morton (Northam) and Catharine Winslow ( Mamet ) Their banter back and forth was superb! They each gave as good as they got and finally found themselves coming together I a kind of secret romance.

"Perhaps I shall see you there again? Up in the gallery?"

"No. Across the floor. One day."

"You still continue your feminist actives?"

"Oh, yes."

"Pity. It's a lost cause."

"Do you think so? How very little you know about women. Goodbye, I doubt we shall meet again."

"Oh do you Miss Winslow? How very little you know about man."

I would say that anyone who loves a good British film should get this movie. But I have to ask why movie like this are only made in other countries and American films are usually such trash?
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HALL OF FAMEon June 8, 2000
I attended a play a while back with my Aunt Marge (age 85), and her friends Marie (age 87) and Susie (age 85). While we were waiting for the curtain to rise, I told them I had just seen a great movie entitled "The Winslow Boy" directed by David Mamet. Marie, a retired high school teacher (French) and her sister Susie (a retired Broadway director and producer) both expresssed surprise.
Marie told me she had directed the play "The Winslow Boy" in high school in the late 1920's -- making the stage play a bit older than the screen play of 1946. Susie played the role of Ms. Winslow in Marie's play.
This is a great movie. The actors include Gemma Jones (Sense and Sensibility), Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George), and Jeremy Northam (Emma). Not only did Mamet direct the movie and develop the screen play, Gemma Jones was involved in the production design.
I love the theater, and viewing this movie gave me the sense I was watching live theater. In fact, the camera work is so good, it was better than live theater as I felt present on the stage. It was as if my eye had detached from my body and could float independently--sometimes at bustle level as an actor walked across the floor--or sometimes at eye level, as when young Winslow hesitates in the rain before entering the house to tell his family of his disgrace.
The story involves a fight for justice. A young boy is expelled from school for cheating. The family might have quietly enrolled him in another school and tried to forget the business, but the boy's father Arthur Winslow (Hawthorne) believes his son is innocent and wants him exonerated. Over the objections of his wife (Jones) and with the help of his daughter (Rebecca Pigeon), he decides to fight the charges. The family hires the very talented Sir Robert Morton (Northam) to take their case. In the end justice triumps.
The most fascinating aspect of this film is the increible sexual tension that mounts between Sir Robert and Ms Winslow as the case proceeds. They are exact opposites. Ms Winslow is a feminist and engages in all sorts of daring things including smoking cigarettes and writing and distributing literature on behalf of the Women's Movement. Sir Robert is a conservative lord, in line for Prime Minister--if he plays his cards right. He looks askance on her feminist activities, but he cannot overcome his fascination with and attraction to Ms. Winslow. The glances, the looks, the indrawn breaths, and quips that convey feelings are fabulous.
Time and again, Ms Winslow tells Sir Robert that he simply does not understand women. He makes comments designed to preserve his aloofness, but eventually, Sir Robert's feelings get the better of him. His last impassioned speech on the floor of the House of Lords--which probably sinks his aspirations for PM--is on behalf of the Winslow boy, but it is purely for Ms. Winslow's benefit.
At the end, standing by the back garden gate, Ms. Winslow thanks Sir Robert for all he has done, and bids him goodbye. He takes her hand, bows, and says, "If you believe that Ms. Winslow, you simply don't understand men."
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on December 14, 2000
Be surprised that this film based on Terence Rattigan's 1946 play is adapted to the screen and directed by David Mamet. Be even more surprised that it's rated "G." But don't miss this gem. Most of the story focuses on the case of a boy accused of stealing a postal order, and its effect on the middle-class Winslow family in 1912 England. The new screen version surpasses the original with the palpable sexual tension between the characters played by Jeremy Northam and Rebecca Pidgeon. The few exchanges between Sir Robert (Northam) and Catherine Winslow (Pidgeon) are skillfully interwoven by Mamet. They're the sexiest couple in recent memory without the lewdness or voyeurism of blockbuster cinema.The DVD features voiceover commentary by Mamet and the main cast. I expected Mamet to be something like Quentin Tarantino's grumpier older brother, but was completely charmed when he introduced himself as "Dave" Mamet and affectionately called Pidgeon "Becks" throughout the commentary. Mamet clearly loved working with every member of his cast (down to the family maid) and directed them to resonant performances. Northam has never been better -- even in more mainstream films like "Emma" or "The Net." If you weren't a fan before, his portrayal of Sir Robert will cinch it.
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on January 30, 2000
Terence Ratigan's 1946 play about the devastating effects that a family's search for justice can cause, a quiet "G" rated period piece in which all the essential action happens off stage, does not immediately strike the viewer as a likely subject matter for David Mamet to film. Yet, the Winslow Boy succeeds magnificently, artfully telling both the principal story and the submerged "real story within the story". The plot is simple--the Winslow boy is expelled from English military school after having been accused of stealing a small postal money order. His family seeks to clear his name, at considerable personal and financial cost. But the playwright and the screenwriter, wisely refrain from any of the courtroom theatrics and Perry Masonesque cross-examinations that such plot material might usually generate. Instead, the movie takes place in the "background" of the effort to clear the boy's name, as we see the way in which the expense and stress of the effort takes a lethal toll on essentially everyone, other than the boy himself. The movie does ask the big questions inherent in the play--"what price justice?". Yet the movie's goal is not to draw easy moral conclusions, but instead to show us the human consequences of moral choices. Rebecca Pidgeon, as the boy's elder sister, is simply stunning, and the pas de deux love story buried deep beneath the surface of the film is brought to life by her understated, tremendously insightful performance. Mamet and Pidgeon understand that the moral dilemmae of this film are set in bold relief by the Edwardian English culture setting in which the film takes place, but they never bathe in the cinematographic fountain of bygone quaintness that have drowned many an earlier film. If you believed that adult films can no longer be made with a "G" rating, you must see this film. Indeed, under every circumstance, you must see this film.
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on October 23, 2003
To my taste this is a fantastic film, almost like watching the theater. Jeremy Northam swept me off my feet. I simply fell completely in love with him. To me, Kate seemed a bit cold, even colder than Sir Robert, which is funny because at first she thought Robert was a cold man whose causes are cynical. In any case, what impressed me the most was how Mamet built a huge story out of a minor case. The story is that of emotions. What's important - in life and on screen in this case - is not the events or the results of them, but the people's reactions and emotions towards them. This is what makes the events, and this is what makes this film so fine - all the tremendous streams flowing far beneath the surface, specifically ofcourse, the mounting (and melting) love between Sir Robert and Kate. Almost like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy... True love very hidden but so obviously there!!! Indeed , go see this film.
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