Renowned playwright David Mamet, whose last directorial stint was the outstanding thriller The Spanish Prisoner, skillfully directs this adaptation of the Terrence Rattigan play about honor, pride and the class structure of turn-of-the-century England. A departure from Mamet’s typically American plays like Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo, The Winslow Boy nonetheless juggles the sexually-charged and political themes to which Mamet is drawn. His signature directing style and sense of language play is all over this period piece.
Based on an actual court case, the boy referred to in the title is Ronnie Winslow (Guy Edwards), a cadet at the Naval Academy at Osbourne, who unexpectedly returns home three days shy of holiday. It is soon discovered that Ronnie was in fact expelled from the college for stealing five shilling postal order. Ronnie emphatically denies the theft, and his stern father Arthur (Nigel Hawthorne) believes him. The senior Winslow demands an apology from the Academy, but they refuse. Arthur and his radical daughter Catherine (Rebecca Pidgeon)--she’s an advocate of woman’s suffrage--determine to take the matter to court and enlist the services of hotshot counselor, Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam). The ensuing case depletes the family coffers, rifts Arthur and his wife Grace (Gemma Jones) and dissolves the engagement between Catherine and her suitor, John (Aden Gillette). (But ignites the passions of Catherine and Sir Robert Morton!)
A tense whodunnit, The Winslow Boy contains several startlingly overlooked performances, especially those of Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam and young Guy Edwards, who are thoroughly engaging whenever they grace the scene. Mamet has an uncanny knack for milking the tension out of every scene without ever seeming to do so. With The Winslow Boy, he certainly proves his mettle as a director.