Tuesday, July 07, 2009


In a story drawn from real life, this film, based on a play by Terence Rattigan, centers on a court case involving British teenager Ronnie Winslow, who is expelled from military school for stealing five shillings from a classmate and then claiming he didn't do it. His father (Cedric Hardwicke) believes his son when he says he's innocent, so Hardwicke, who has recently retired due to ill health, risks his entire estate by insisting on taking the case to court. He hires a rather aloof lawyer (Robert Donat) who seems not to get personally involved, but who fights hard, first to get the case heard at all (at the time, there was no precedent for a suit against the government), and then in the courtroom. The cost of the proceedings affects the entire family: the older son has to leave Oxford; the daughter, no longer possessing a desirable dowry, loses her suitor; and there may not even be enough money to keep the family maid. On the surface, this is an average courtroom drama (though only a handful of scenes take place in court), though it's most interesting on the level of character, showing how the members of this relatively ordinary family actually do rise to the occasion and come through for each other. Donat's part is the trickiest, as he has to seem brusque and unflappable, but still genuinely concerned for the family (and for his reputation). He's good, though I couldn't help but compare this film to the recent remake by David Mamet in which Jeremy Northam is even better. Hardwicke is fine, and very good in support are Basil Radford (pictured with Donat) as an older lawyer who carries a bit of a flame for the daughter, Kathleen Harrison as the maid, and Jack Watling as the older son who is constantly pissing off his old man with his modern ways. Margaret Leighton as the daughter and Neil North as Ronnie are on the bland side, but suffice. [TCM]

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