It’s always a good feeling when you watch a movie you have really enjoyed. If you are like me then you will usually take a scan through the credits and look for familiar names. Sometimes you will see one that rings a bell; Hey, that director is the same guy who directed one of your real favourites or, that screen writer is the same writer who wrote another movie you enjoyed. That’s what I call a movie connection.
The Winslow Boy is one of my favourite old movies. It was written by Terence Rattigan and adapted from his own play. The original starred Robert Donat (who hailed from Withington in Manchester) playing the part of Sir Robert Morton and was directed by Antony Asquith. You may be more familiar with the recent version starring Jeremy Northam and Nigel Hawthorne which, all things considered, wasn’t a bad film. Anyway, the first time I saw the original movie I made a mental note of Terence Rattigan for future reference.
Here’s another movie: The VIPs, a film about various characters delayed at London Airport due to weather. It’s a lovely movie with great performances by Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret Rutherford. It was a movie I really enjoyed so I checked the credits and what did I find? Screenplay by Terence Rattigan. Directed by Anthony Asquith. Yes, I thought, that rings a bell.
A great Sunday afternoon film is The Yellow Rolls Royce. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but it is three separate stories, all connected by the Yellow Rolls Royce. My favourite episode is one starring Shirley Maclaine. She is involved with gangster George C Scott and they are on holiday in Italy. When her gangster lover has to return to New York to sort out ‘some business,’ Shirley is left alone with young Italian Alain Delon. She falls in love with him but realises that when George returns, her new lover’s life expectancy will be very short. So, she tells him she doesn’t love him at all and returns to the USA with gangster George. Although he doesn’t realise it, Shirley has saved Alain’s life. As I watched the credits pass by, there were those names again, Anthony Asquith and Terence Rattigan.
Asquith was the son of the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. He was a great friend of Terence Rattigan and they collaborated on 10 films together but it’s Rattigan I want to write about here. Who who was he? Well, he was a playwright who wrote a number of west end hits, many of which were made into films. You may recognise some from this list; The Way to the Stars, The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea, The Price and the Showgirl, Separate Tables, The Sound Barrier and the Yellow Rolls Royce.
Wikipedia says Rattigan was a ‘troubled homosexual, who saw himself as an outsider, and that his plays ‘confronted issues of sexual frustration, failed relationships and adultery.’
He was born in 1911, had quite a privileged upbringing and was educated at Harrow. His first play was ‘French Without Tears’ about a crammer where English students go to learn French. Rattigan joined the Royal Air force at the outbreak of the Second World War and became an air gunner. He used his experiences to write a play called ‘Flare Path’ which eventually became the movie ‘The Way to the Stars’, also directed by Asquith, the DVD version of which resides happily on my DVD shelf.
Robert Donat relished the role of Sir Robert Morton in the Winslow Boy. Morton is an MP cum barrister who takes the British Admiralty to court over the sacking of Cadet Winslow. In my favourite scene, Sir Robert Morton questions Ronnie Winslow about the incident in question, that of the theft of a postal order. The questioning goes fairly gently until Sir Robert ups the ante when Ronnie, the Winslow Boy himself, mentions talking to another boy;
RONNIE I said, “Come down to the Post Office with me. I’m going to
cash a postal order.”
SIR ROBERT ‘Cash’ a postal order?
RONNIE I mean ‘get’.
SIR ROBERT You said ‘cash’. Why did you say ‘cash’ if you meant ‘get’?
RONNIE I don’t know.
SIR ROBERT I suggest ‘cash’ was the truth.
RONNIE No, no. It wasn’t, really. You’re muddling me.
SIR ROBERT You seem easily muddled. How many other lies have you told?
RONNIE None. Really, I haven’t.
SIR ROBERT I suggest your whole testimony is a lie.
RONNIE No, it’s the truth.
SIR ROBERT I suggest there is barely one single word of truth in anything you’ve said either to me or to the Judge Advocate or to the Commander. I suggest that you broke into Elliot’s locker, that you stole the postal order for five shillings belonging to Elliot, that you cashed it by means of forging his name.
RONNIE I didn’t. I didn’t.
I suggest that by continuing to deny your guilt you’re causing great hardship to your own family and considerable annoyance to high and important persons in this country.
That is a disgraceful thing to say.
I suggest that the time has at last come for you to undo some of the misery you have caused by confessing to us all now that you are a forger, a liar, and a thief!
How dare you!
I’m not. I’m not. I didn’t do it.
It looks like everything is all over then Sir Robert asks for all the available papers to be sent to him. ‘Is that necessary now?’ asks someone.
‘Of course’, replies Morton. ‘The boy is plainly innocent. I accept the brief.’
There is also a rather subtle flirtation between Catherine, Ronnie Winslow’s elder sister and Sir Robert. Catherine comments ‘how little you know about women’ to Sir Robert after an exchange between the two. He later replies to her when she doubts she will see him again, ‘How little you know about men, Miss Winslow!’
The Winslow Boy is a delightful film which captures perfectly that ‘upstairs, downstairs’ life in the early part of the twentieth century. Look out for excellent supporting performances from Jack Watling and Kathleen Harrison as well as those of the feature players, Robert Donat and Margaret Leighton. You may have to search ebay for the DVD version as the movie is not one of those we see often on terrestrial TV.
Remember, don’t forget to check the credits on a film. You may find a lot of familiar names on the movies you love!
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