Variety called this biopic of Winston Churchill’s early years ‘a brilliant artistic achievement and a fascinating, highly enjoyable film.’
Using three actors (child Russell Lewis, adolescent Michael Audreson and grown-up Simon Ward) to represent Churchill, the film follows young Winston through the hardening horrors of Victorian prep school and Harrow beatings, Sandhurst, subsequent military action in Sudan and India, his rise to fame as a Boer War correspondent and his rousing maiden Parliamentary speech as newly elected Member for Oldham.
Writer and producer Carl Foreman (who faithfully based his Oscar-nominated script on Churchill’s memoirs, My Early Life) was persuaded to make the film by the great man himself. The old bulldog had been impressed with the clout of Foreman’s The Guns of Navarone and, as the Virgin Film Guide indicates, Young Winston ‘works as an action-packed adventure, with lots of rousing battle scenes and hairsbreadth escapes.’
Released just seven years after Churchill’s death in 1965, when he was still revered as ‘the finest of all Englishmen,’ Foreman, Ward and director Dickie Attenborough might have been forgiven for glossing over his glowering social flaws. Thankfully, as noted in Variety ‘Far from a sycophantic paean to a great man, the film manages a believable portrait of an ambitious and sometimes arrogant young man.’
This was Attenborough’s second outing as director (after Oh! What a Lovely War) and his first biopic. But he already knew the essential ingredient of the genre, that is, a study of the psychological make-up and motivation of the film’s subject. Young Winston suggests that Churchill was driven throughout his life by a damaged relationship with his parents. He was devoted to his glamorous American mother (Anne Bancroft), but boarding school education starved him of her love from the age of seven. More powerful still was his desire to prove himself to father Lord Randolph Churchill (scene-stealing Robert Shaw).
UK / 157 minutes / 1972
Director: Richard Attenborough
Writers: Carl Foreman
Robert Shaw as Lord Randolph Churchill
Anne Bancroft as Lady Jennie Churchill
Simon Ward as Winston Churchill
Jack Hawkins as Mr. Welldon
Ian Holm as George E. Buckle
Anthony Hopkins as David Llyod George
Edward Woodward as Captain Aylmer Haldane
John Mills as General Kitchner
Patrick Magee as General Bindon Blood
James Cosmo as Officer on Train
Jane Seymour as Pamela Plowden
Robert Hardy as Prep School Headmaster
Laurence Naismith as Lord Salisbury
Reginald Marsh as Prince of Wales
Dinsdale Landen as Capt. Weaver
John Woodvine as Howard
Clive Morton as Dr. Roose
Robert Flemyng as Dr. Buzzard
Richard Leech as Moore
Colin Blakely as Butcher
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