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With: Rebecca Pidgeon, Jeremy Northam, Gemma Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, Matthew Pidgeon, Lana Bilzerian, Sarah Flind, Aden Gillett, Guy Edwards, Colin Stinton, Eve Bland, Sara Stewart, Perry Fenwick, Alan Polonsky, Neil North, Chris Porter, Jim Dunk, Duncan Gould, Ian Soundy
Written by: David Mamet, based on a play by Terence Rattigan
Directed by: David Mamet
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 104
Date: 04/16/1999

The Winslow Boy (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Holding Court

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Winslow Boy is another movie based on a play, this one a 1946 work by Terrence Rattigan (Separate Tables). Adapted and directed by David Mamet, it made its world premiere at the recent SF International Film Festival. It's a strange movie, yet oddly satisfying and quite accomplished.

The Winslow Boy follows the true story of young Ronald Winslow (Guy Edwards), who has been accused of stealing a postal note and thrown out of Naval school. His father, played by Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George) sets out to clear his son's name, even if it means going to trial. Jeremy Northam plays the hotshot lawyer who takes the case, and Gemma Jones is the long-suffering Mrs. Winslow.

I expected a worthy courtroom drama from this setup, but most of the action takes place in the Winslow home, with characters simply describing the events to each other. Normally this sort of tell-don't-show filmmaking is frowned upon (it's a visual medium after all), but because Mamet manages to keep us a little off-balance with the material and his actors, our curiosity is piqued the whole way through. We're never sure if Ronnie is innocent or not, we're never sure if Catherine Winslow (Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's wife) is really in love with her fiancee, and we're never sure how much longer the Winslow family fortune can last. (We constantly see empty spaces on walls where paintings used to hang.) Mamet's approach to this material reminded me of the rule-bending work by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve and The Barefoot Contessa).

That Mamet should try to tackle someone else's play -- and a period piece at that -- should surprise no one who saw and loved Vanya on 42nd Street, for which he adapted the Chekhov play Uncle Vanya without a trace of his usual Mamet-esque dialogue. The Winslow Boy is a wonderful achievement, one I hold in much higher regard than last year's overrated The Spanish Prisoner.

(This review originally appeared on

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