Sony // 1999 // 110 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge David Rogers (Retired) // March 9th, 2000
"It has a certain ring about it, does it not? Let right be done."
English Period Drama. That very phrase, that single description set to a film, can either cause a surge of delightful anticipation or a shudder and thoughts of distasteful activities that one would much rather be engaged in to begin to run through the mind. In other words, you either love 'em or you hate 'em. It really just comes down to that. Much the same with horror or science fiction or romance. You either like it, or you don't.
The above is a rather brief description of one of the more striking chasms within the community of film lovers. It's hard to be entirely even handed when discussing such a film, as your audience will so always be sharply divided. In any event, as someone who doesn't always find such films to be of interest, I must say The Winslow Boy isn't all that bad. It does follow the typical form, uses all the expected customs and costumes, and gives no indications of attempting to represent any modern influences within the storytelling.
I know the above may make it seem as if I didn't like the film, but to be honest I have to say that, considering I typically fall in the second category on this matter, I did develop a bit of fondness for the story as it unfolded. It certainly plays out like a theater production, rather than a cinematic one, but that does just give it that much more charm. Also, the story is adapted from a theatrical script, and thus is understandable. Of course the acting is first rate, with everyone perfectly in character. Just as there are groupings of film lovers, so to are there groupings of actors. The major names appearing in The Winslow Boy certainly have their share of other English Period Dramas on their résumés.
To state it simply, the story is about a upper middle, or lower upper, class family, the Winslows, in early twentieth century England. Their youngest son is sacked (expelled, as we'd say in America) from the Royal Naval Academy on an accusation of minor theft. The family then engages in a lengthy (years) action to clear their son's name and reputation while the country follows their cause with a certain amount of bemusement and irritation.
The strength of the production is, again, the acting. There are no flashy effects or clever camera maneuvers to admire here; simply period costuming and set dressings, period vocabulary and styles of speech, and a strong cast. The story is somewhat simplistic and straightforward, but is solidly told and without any gaping discrepancies that so often plague today's cinematic efforts.
Regardless of what one might think of the film, the disc itself is a very solid offering. The video is clean, and mostly crisp; occasionally the picture softens somewhat, but never enough to become especially distracting. The color palette is subdued and limited in range, but the colors are strong and without bleed. The audio is, of course, a dramatic film; but the dialogue is always forward and clear. Never does the listener have to wonder what is being said.
The disc also includes theatrical trailers for The Winslow Boy and The Spanish Prisoner, both presented full frame. There is a very short "making of" featurettes that serves as an extended trailer without really offering anything of interest on the production. Talent files on David Mamet (The Spanish Prisoner), Nigel Hawthorne (Amistad, Richard III, Demolition Man), Jeremy Northam (Amistad, The Net, Wuthering Heights) and Rebecca Pidgeon (The Spanish Prisoner).
However, the crowning glory of this disc is the extremely engaging commentary track included with it. Incorporating not only director Mamet, but also Jeremy Northam and Rebecca Pidgeon; they cover all aspects of the production with a wonderful chemistry. It remains interesting and entertaining to listen to them, and should be considered a very good example of a commentary track for other disc producers.
The disc's labeling is very vague. The case says "2-Channel Dolby Surround" when describing the audio, and popular online DVD retailers don't shed much more light on the matter. I can only conclude the audio is "Dolby 2.0," as I never detected my surrounds hitting at all. This isn't much of a loss, again considering the film is a period drama, but the unclear labeling simply can't be tolerated. Further labeling problems, the "production notes" listed appear nowhere on the disc. For shame.
The Winslow Boy is a straightforward story told with a lot of charm that relies very heavily upon the actors to sell to the audience. Fortunately, this very adept cast does just that, resulting in a film that makes for a pleasant audience experience. The disc is further nicely done, all things considered, with just a few oddities marring it overall. But the inclusion of a very excellent commentary track helps bolster the effort tremendously.
Columbia TriStar is chastised for using marketeering terminology in their case labeling, for not clearly indicating to the consumer what is being purchased. They are additionally reprimanded for the phantom listing of the promised "production notes."
Review content copyright © 2000 David Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Commentary Track (director and both leading actors)
* Biographical Text Screens on Director and Name Cast
* Making-of Featurettes
* Two Theatrical Trailers (Full Frame)
* Official Site
* Cinemayhem David Mamet Profile