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on March 20, 2002
The Winslow Boy is based on a famous legal case that occurred in England in 1908. A fourteen-year old boy was expelled from a British naval academy for allegedly stealing a five-schilling postal order, which is equivalent to just a few dollars. His father, believing his child's innocence, sued the state in order to clear his family's name. The story was turned into a successful play by Terrence Rattigan in 1948, and the playwright's work is the basis for this film by David Mamet. Mamet, who has written many plays himself, has previously been known for more visceral fare, but he handles this more sedate material with flair.
The focus of The Winslow Boy is not on the trial. We are never shown the inside of a courtroom. Instead, it focuses on the effects of the case on the family. It shows us how difficult and costly doing the right thing can be. We also see the high price of notoriety. Even today, when people willing display their problems on national TV talk shows, notoriety still has its costs, I believe We can imagine how devastating it must have been back in the days when privacy and self-esteem were held in high regard.
The story is one which begins rather slowly. We get a lot of character development, but the payoff is that it becomes riveting by the second half. Much of this is due to the superb acting of Nigel Hawthorne and Jeremy Northam. Hawthorne plays Arthur Winslow, the father who instigates the case. Hawthorne brings dignity and grace to a character who otherwise might seem a bit mad. Winslow never raises his voice. He quietly and persistently pursues his goal, not realizing until its too late that his family's lives are in danger of being ruined. Yet, can people pursing right ever be truly ruined? That is the question the movie raises. Jeremy Northam, who reminds me of a young Laurence Olivier, is astounding as Sir Robert Morton, the famous lawyer who finally agrees to take the case. He is especially interesting in his interaction with the daughter, Catherine Winslow [Rebecca Pidgeon]. She is a brilliant woman who works for women's rights, a thing which appalls Sir Robert. At the same time, we must remember a truism about relationships: A strong person tends to be attracted to another strong person who disagrees with them sooner than they are attracted to a weak person who agrees with them. This idea sums up the relationship between Catherine and Robert, and it all becomes quite romantic in an understated British way.
Obviously, this is a cerebral movie. Action fans, this means that nobody gets beaten up and nothing blows up. Exit polls showed it to be most liked by people over the age of forty-five, but I feel that many thinking people over the age of twelve might enjoy it, if they know what to expect going in.
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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 November 13, 2002
As Shakespeare once wrote in Othello, "He who steals my purse steals trash, but he who steals my good name steals everything." Such is the basis of this movie, based on a true incident in 1908 when a young boy is expelled from the Royal Naval College for stealing a 5-shilling postal order (5 shillings then being less than a dollar today.) The father believes his son when he says he did not do it, and launches a campaign to clear his son's name, taking all of the family's health, wealth and peace of mind as he does.
But the family rallies together and so it is all worth it to them, even when they become the subject of political cartoons and object of public ridicule.
This is a good film, well-scripted and acted, directed by David Mamet and starring his wife Rebecca Pidgeon and Jeremy Northam. It makes you wonder if you would seek justice in this case, and if not, why not? It is a true testament of values prevailing, whether or not the public believes it to be a worthy campaign.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 10, 2006
All lovers of period pieces should enjoy this one. This remake, based upon the play by Terrence Rattigan, takes place in the early part of the twentieth century, before the advent of World War I. A thirteen year old Naval cadet is excused of stealing a postal order and subsequently expelled. He claims that he did not do it, despite seeming evidence to the contrary. His upstanding and prosperous family rally around him. After going to the Naval academy from which he was expelled and having their entreaties fall upon deaf ears, they decide to take the unprecedented step of suing the Crown.

The family retains the services of a well respected barrister, Sir Robert Morton, played with British reserve by the always wonderful Jeremy Northam, who agrees to represent the boy. The case becomes a cause celebre all over England, and Sir Morton's client becomes known as that Winslow boy, a notoriety that shakes the boy's very proper family to its core. While the case wends its way through the English legal system, tension between the boy's intelligent, bluestocking sister, gravely played by Rebecca Pidgeon, and his barrister bubbles to the surface.

The courtroom scenes do not dominate the drama, though they are interesting. The outcome of the lawsuit is, of course, predictable. Yet, it is of no consequence, since the movie is not really about the resolution of the case. The movie ends on a note of romantic hope, as it wittily augers what is surely to come.

Another version of this film, released in 1948, is just as good as this one. There, Margaret Leighton does a better job than Rebecca Pidgeon in the role of the bluestocking sister, while the barrister role is better served by Jeremy Northam than Robert Donat. It is easy to make the comparison, since both films are nearly word for word the same. One is shot in black and white, the other in color. They are both, however, excellent.
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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 May 23, 2000
Movies, these days, come loaded with such a definitely bombastic style that they appear to deny the existence of the notion that restraint has its peculiar virtue and beauty. In this sense, the "Winslow Boy" will only be truly appreciated by those who do have a good grasp of that notion. The film is a perfect example to illustrate that an underplayed performance is much more effective and satisfying than an overplayed one; that self-restraining style has more meaning and class than a say-all-you-feel style. Put in other words, isn't it more exciting to see a beautiful woman in a suggestive dress than see her in the nude! Yes, leave the rest to one's own imagination and intimacy! Despite the grave nature of the legal issue raised in the movie, every aspect in it is underplayed and delivered with an appropriate touch of reticence that the conflicts it generate seem more real and honest. The Winslow Boy incident is nothing but a catalyst and a tool to develop characters, conflicts and relationships. Among them the relationship between Rebecca Pidgeon and Jeremy Northam is a model of adult sexuality at its finest. In essence, this movie is a drama which hides a covert, clever, smoldering romance which has an atypical happy ending that stimulates your imagination beyond the movie. Deep underneath their skin one can feel the sexual tension between them that is kept in check by their cool heads and the notion that it is always better not to let one's emotions just explode all at once. Emotions should be managed and not let run loose at will. After the ending, one comes to the realization that long lasting relationships are built step by step, with time and effort, and with a good dose of intellectual foreplay to top it off. By the way, this DVD comes with an alternative audio commentary by the director and the principal cast that is very informative and entertaining, and it is also a good example of why every good film should add such a track to its DVD format. This may have been the best performance by Jeremy Northam (he certainly has a resemblance and style of Laurence Olivier) , and Rebecca Pidgeon was perfect in her role, and those who critized her for being too cold and emotionless, and other aspects of this movie, just do not get the deliberate design of this movie.
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on April 15, 2000
Such a restraint of emotion. At times you just wanted someone to cry or give each other hug. Which in turn gets you emotionally involved in it. I think that is the whole point of the movie: the characters make you react to what they are doing. It involves the audience. It's not a movie where you just sit there and watch the characters emotionally go through their troubles while you are just along for the ride. The movie makes you, the audience, participate by you providing the reactions and emotions. You'll catch yourself looking at the person beside you to see them smile or look hurt. The movie leaves you feeling good as though you accomplished something and were a part of these characters lives. Because of the restraint of emotion you feel the characters are much deeper than they are letting on. The movie ends before they have to show you what obviously will happen. The daughter and Sir Robert will get married. It's like the movie says, "we tried to be intelligent the whole movie and will now not put the Hollywood ending on that you crave. You're intelligent enough to know what will happen. We don't have to tell you". It goes with the whole theme of restraining your emotions and leaving you with the satisfied feeling that they will get together. Wonderfully Rated G. Why does a good movie need sex, violence or swearing, if it is satisfying enough mentally and emotionally. Rent it and pay attention. It's a movie you can't get up and leave from for 5 minutes and then come back and know what's going on. You have to rewind it to catch every word.
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on June 14, 2000
I saw this movie in the library and decided to try it based on the director being David Mamet, whose previous work such as Glengarry Glen Ross and House of Cards I really enjoyed. I knew nothing about the movie otherwise and don't even remember it being released. What a surprise! Even though the plot (the younger son of a middle class British family is kicked out of the Osborne Naval Academy for cheating and his family sets out to prove his innocence) doesn't sound that interesting, the story kept me on the edge of my seat. Mamet has several key events happen off screen and the actors responding to second hand notice of these events and this actually seemed to heighten the suspense. Jeremy Northam is brilliant in a pivotal role. If you want a change from the summer blockbusters, this is the perfect movie!
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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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 7, 2006
Mamet knows dialogue. This movie was a feast for both the ears and eyes. It's nice to watch a smart movie, a movie that respects the audience. Not a legal thriller, it's about the effect that a fight for justice has on a family. It asks questions about the importance of innocence - I wondered if I would have the stamina to go the distance. How can we have justice if the cost to the participants is so high? If you like to think while watching a movie, if you love catching subtle changes in the set, if you love participating actively in the experience of a story, then this movie is for you.
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