Reviewed by: Jim Yuill
Starring: Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam, Rebecca Pidgeon | Director: David Mamet | Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
“The Winslow Boy” is a G-rated movie for adults. It’s a fabulous and thought-provoking view of a culture long past. The setting is turn-of-the-century England. The story is about an upper-class family’s fight to restore the reputation of their son, following his expulsion from prep-school.
However, the story is really about characters—fascinating and virtuous characters. For example, the father demonstrates a refreshing display of godly manhood. In him we see love, service, leadership, a well-ordered life, and the respectful submission of his wife and children.
The primary characters are the adult daughter Catherine (Rebecca Pidgeon) and the family’s attorney Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam). The two work together, seeking to overturn her brother’s expulsion from prep-school. Through most of the story, Catherine is betrothed to a military officer, yet Sir Robert is clearly a better match. Catherine’s commitment to her fiancé, in spite of Sir Robert’s appeal, is another thread of virtue in the story. In part, “The Winslow Boy” is a very subtle sort of love story—one which reveals only the potential for love.
Omission is an intentional device used throughout the story. Parts of the story are not fully revealed—who did commit the crime of which the son was accused? Exactly what is the “bunny hug”? Does Catherine accept the marriage proposal from Desmond, the family’s other attorney? At one point, Catherine learns a secret and whispers it to her fiancé. For a short while, the audience is left intrigued. The omissions are a powerful device. For several weeks I’ve been imagining the missing details.
There were two aspects of the story which I found objectionable. The character Catherine has a scene of passionate embrace with her fiancé. The display of pre-marital sex is mildly offensive. The greater offense of that scene is from knowing that the actress is, in real life, married to the director of the movie. Acting does not justify adulterous behavior [see note below].
The second objectionable part of the story is Catherine’s vocation of feminist activist. It’s intended to be a display of virtue, but from a Biblical perspective I believe feminism is largely an act of rebellion against God’s intended order. Fortunately, one of Sir Robert’s strengths is his confident opposition to Catherine’s feminist ideals.
Overall, these points of offense are overshadowed by the characters' virtues and their fight for truth. For a story crafted by worldly men, there is an exceptional degree of common grace. “The Winslow Boy” is intelligent, uplifting and ennobling and has now become one of my favorite films.