The Winslow Boy
Directed by David Mamet
Staring Nigel Hawthorn, Gemma Jones, Rebecca Pidgeon
Great Britain, 1999, 110 min
The fourteen-year old Winslow boy arrives home a bit early for the holidays, as he has been sacked from the naval academy for stealing a 5 shilling postal order. He didn’t do it, and convinces his father he is innocent. Father (Nigel Hawthorn) takes up his defense by leading a media campaign, an unheard of act in Edwardian England. Daughter Kate, a cog in the Suffragette Movement, helps even as the case threatens to tear apart her engagement and the Winslow household, as well as the British Admiralty.
The implacability of British stiff upper lip directs the cast. Each character lives in their own world, acts on their own account, and has almost no interest in the others, except they happen to dine together occasionally. The case causes Kate’s fiancée to drop the engagement, which seems to her a welcome relief. Father pursues the case as his only remaining interest as age claims his vitality. Solicitor Sir Robert Morton argues the case more for his own political ends than any real care about right or wrong. The sum effect paints a brittle and self absorbed society about to shatter on the rocks of the Great War. Messages are missing or at least greatly obscured. The easy ones, of justice pursued for its own case, or the moral rectitude of staying the course against insurmountable odds, are muted. There is no tension between the characters that drives action, only the internal tension within the individual that motivates. Internal psychological space, painted on the perfunctory perfect reproduction of 1913 British upper classes, is the centerpiece of this tale. Even the rally cry of the defense, “Let Right Be Done!” never raises the gall of anger in the audience. This case changed the expectations of British law, but the viewer — along with the Winslow mother — will wonder if it was really worth it.