Courtesy Photo
**** stars 110 minutes | Rated: G
Opened: Friday, May 14, 1999
Adapted & directed by David Mamet

Starring Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam, Rebecca Pidgeon, Gemma Jones, Guy Edwards, Matthew Pidgeon

This movie is on the Best of 1999 list.


Actually saw this on video before its theatrical release, and it plays very well. A nice cinematic transition from stage.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 2/1/2000

David Mamet:
"Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992) screenplay
"Wag the Dog" (1997) screenplay
"The Edge" (1997) screenplay

Nigel Hawthorne:
"The Object of My Affection" (1998)
"Amistad" (1997)
"Richard III" (1995)

Jeremy Northam:
"Amistad" (1997)
"Mimic" (1997)
"Emma" (1996)
"The Net" (1995)

Gemma Jones:
"Wilde" (1998)

Court defense of son's honor takes toll on Edwardian family in accomplished 'Winslow Boy'

By Rob Blackwelder

OK, let's just get this part out of the way right now: Who'd have imagined David Mamet -- that controversial master of brash, profanity-laced male head-butting -- could (or would even want to) direct a G-rated masterpiece about the prim and proper society folk of Edwardian England?

Best known for his dialogue-driven, testosterone-saturated stage plays ("Glengarry Glen Ross") and screenplays ("The Edge"), Mamet seems the most unlikely director for a project such as "The Winslow Boy," a deceptively simple drawing room drama about a family defending its sacred honor to the financial, emotional and medical detriment of its members.

The film is adapted from Terrence Rattigan's 1946 play -- loosely based on real events -- about the pursuit of justice for an upper-crust 13-year-old boy kicked out of a prestigious private school for stealing a five schilling postal order.

His father, played by the incomparable Nigel Hawthorne, asks him, "Did you do it?" The boy says no, and Hawthorne becomes hell-bent on clearing his name, becoming ill from stress and near-broke in the process.

He pulls his elder, lackadaisical son from Oxford so he can afford to hire Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam), the country's most famous lawyer, to defend his son in a court battle that soon becomes the talk of London.

Mamet inspires at least one career-best performance (Northam's) with his eye for emotional sincerity (even within the confines of the shuttered, proper English facade) and his ear for riveting, measured dialogue. Not a single word passes without meaning in Mamet's structured adaptation.

Northam ("Emma") is astounding as Morton -- powerful, composed and intelligent. The Sherlock Holmes of solicitors, he plays the part as perceptive and wonderfully spirited while entirely proper and seemingly passionless, yet highly principled -- he turns down a prestigious government position to continue the case.

Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamet's real-life wife) plays the boy's suffragette sister, whose feckless fiance skedaddles when the case becomes a scandal. Subsequently, a strong sexual tension forms between herself and the lawyer as they butt heads in polite but ardent and passionate debates on women's rights.

Mamet's film opens up the action, which in the play takes place entirely within the Winslow's drawing room, but he did not re-write it to include courtroom scenes. He depends on the brilliantly vivid and intricate recounting of courtroom observers (the sister mostly) to tell the story of the trial, while the focus stays on its effects on the family through their conscious and unconscious reactions.

He also leaves the boy's actual innocence indirectly in question, as the father continues the fight even though his son is doing fine at a new school and life would quickly return to normal if he would just drop it.

Although Mamet has directed highly-praised films before (notably, last year's "The Spanish Prisoner"), "The Winslow Boy" is his best film venture to date. His grasp of the social climate of the Edwardian world of walking sticks and waist coats, bustles and bonnets is absorbing in its detail. His photography is lush and perceptive as well. But above all, the film is emotionally candid and truthful even while the characters preserve the polite, corseted restraint of their culture.


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