• U.S.

Cinema: Bore War

3 minute read
Jay Cocks



You may recall The Guns of Navarone. Gregory Peck, indomitable as ever, was the leader of a crack World War II commando unit dispatched to destroy a brobdingnagian Nazi artillery unit. En route, Peck and his troops would often denounce the ironies of fate and the horrors of war, then slaughter like Saracens when they finally came up against the foe.

Apparently impressed with the lead-soldier shenanigans of Navarone, Winston Churchill summoned its writer-producer Carl Foreman, talked with him about the movie, and about such previous Foreman scripts as The Bridge on the River Kwai. Foreman was just the man to write a movie version of his early years, the statesman decided.

On the evidence of Young Winston, Foreman mistook this commission for a knighthood. The film that he and Director Attenborough (Oh What a Lovely War) have whittled out of all the dispatches, memoirs and histories is antiseptic and servile, as empty of conflict as a biographical entry in the Britannica. The movie even employs an offscreen journalist, whose task it is to badger Young Winston (Simon Ward), his father Lord Randolph (Robert Shaw) and American mother (Anne Bancroft) with indelicate inquiries. “What precisely was the nature of your husband’s last illness?” the journalist sneers from behind the camera, adding after an evasive answer, “Come, come, Lady Randolph, we live in modern times. Surely the word syphilis need hold no terrors for us.” Lord Randolph’s death, like his personal life, like his wife’s love affairs and vaulting ambition for her son, is minimized with a few such fumbling innuendoes, and curiosity or concern over such matters is reduced to scandalmongering.

Better Luck. What remains is an enervating epic about a young man, unpromising at school, whose parents did not pay him quite enough attention. Since Young Winston attempts to be a kind of vest-pocket spectacle, there are also a couple of the battles in which he fought (a set-to in the Sudan, a Boer skirmish). Attenborough stages them with all the fury of a grade school recess. He has better luck with the actors, perhaps because he is an actor himself. Ward is credible in the thorny role of Winston as a young man, Shaw superb as his father. The secondary characters are all cast and played faultlessly, with Ian Holm as editor of the Times and Anthony Hopkins as Lloyd George especially engaging. Anne Bancroft, who ought to have been perfect as Lady Randolph, is thwarted largely by a part that asks her only to be coquettish or long-suffering. Young Winston suffocates her restless dynamism, just as it does the true power and substance of Churchill’s early life. ”


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