Following the theft of a postal-order, a fourteen-year old cadet is expelled from Naval College. To save the honour of the boy and his family, the pre-eminent barrister of the day is engaged to take on the might the Admiralty.
A fateful event leads to a job in the film business for top mixed-martial arts instructor Mike Terry. Though he refuses to participate in prize bouts, circumstances conspire to force him to consider entering such a competition.
Early 20th century England: while toasting his daughter Catherine's engagement, Arthur Winslow learns the royal naval academy expelled his 14-year-old son, Ronnie, for stealing five shillings. Father asks son if it is true; when the lad denies it, Arthur risks fortune, health, domestic peace, and Catherine's prospects to pursue justice. After defeat in the military court of appeals, Arthur and Catherine go to Sir Robert Morton, a brilliant, cool barrister and M.P., who examines Ronnie and suggests that they take the matter before Parliament to seek permission to sue the Crown. They do, which keeps Ronnie's story on the front page and keeps Catherine in Sir Robert's ken.Written by
Terence Rattigan's classic English play from the 1940s but set just before WW1 has been filmed at least five times. This 1999 version is by the American director David Mamet, with his wife Rebecca Pidgeon in a lead role as the Boy's sister Catherine, along with Nigel Hawthorne and Gemma Jones as the parents. The acting honours however truly belong to Jeremy Northam as their barrister, Sir Robert Morton, who finds himself strangely attracted to young Ms Winslow. He is the full QC-MP, urbane, smooth as silk (dammit he is a silk) and deeply cynical, scambling up the greasy pole at Westminster, using his legal skills as best he may. Yet he compromises his career by taking the case. It involves the absurdly trivial matter of the alleged theft of a five shilling postal order but by the time it's over Sir Robert and his clients have managed to put the Navy and half the government on trial. Northam make this almost unbelievable transformation seem not just likely but inevitable.
`The Winslow Boy' is of course based on a real case, the Archer-Shee affair, though Rattigan modified the story substantially. In particular the Archer-Shee's counsel, Edward Carson, the prosecutor of Oscar Wilde and raving anti-Irish home ruler, never became personally involved with the family. He was made a law lord (top British judge) shortly after so his quite spectacular career was not affected by his involvement in the Archer-Shee case. Yet the most interesting thing in the film is the entirely ficticious relationship between Sir Robert, the conventional male supremacist and Catherine, the dedicated suffragette. In the end sex triumphs over politics, as it so often does. A pity it did not do so in the case of Lord Carson.
The Boy himself has a wonderful line in English Public School patter (I'm sure an American audience would need sub-titles). Sadly the real Boy was killed in WW1, which also killed the society to whom the Archer-Shee case was so important.
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