Saturday, 3 May 2014

Young Winston (1972)

BBC2 offered us something of a traditional Saturday matinee this afternoon with 1972's Young Winston.

Coming in during the waning years of 'the epic biopic' there's much to admire but much to feel disappointed and even bored by in Richard Attenborough's film.

On the whole, the film does a good job at adapting Churchill's memoir My Early Life; bringing forth the great man's derring do but offering little in the way of depth, dimension or drama towards his protagonist. It's curious that the film seems hesitant to point out Churchill's flaws as a child (he was notoriously mercurial and prone to violent outbursts) or in depicting the sexual dynamite that was his mother, Lady Randolph played by Anne Bancroft preferring instead to stick to Churchill's more saintly descriptions (much like Del Boy would discuss his mother!) when at the same time it is bold enough to explore in moving detail (thanks in the main to Robert Shaw's great performance) his father's decline and death to what was presumed and considered to be syphilis, a fact Churchill would always choose to obscure - though now in the 21st century its much debated as the actual cause anyway.

There's also some odd choices in telling the somewhat roaming story that more often than not makes it feel like its tubthumping before dispensing with such methods as if its heart was never really in it in the first place. Voice overs, non linear narrative, flashbacks, flashforwards, interview's all here in various shapes and forms and more often than not feel unfocused.

As with all epics worth their salt, Young Winston has some truly stirring action set pieces - there's just something about these as real Boer War recreations that gets the audiences attention in a way that the CGI mock ups of today could never do - and a cavalcade of stars (though Simon Ward, to his credit, never fades into the background despite the more established talents of John Mills or Robert Shaw etc and manages to convince as the young Churchill) but on the whole Young Winston just feels a bit too worthy and is a bit too underpowered to truly join the ranks of the great epics like Lawrence of Arabia. It's more suitably a companion piece to its contemporary at the time, Nicholas and Alexandra or - as an exercise in comparing and contrasting - Attenborough's later, more assured piece, Gandhi.


  1. I'm not certain, but there seem to be a couple of different edits of this film. The script book (which was released as a tie-in paperback of the film) ends with an elderly Churchill dreaming about meeting his father again. He is asked what he does for a living, and we can hear Ward telling the plainly disappointed Shaw that he writes and paints a bit. I'm sure that this scene was in the first screening that I saw, but it was gone on the next showing (or maybe it was all a dream...)

    1. Really? I can't say I've seen that version myself but it really wouldn't surprise me. Back in the day multiple versions of films weren't as unusual as they are now. Thanks for stopping by and offering such an interesting bit of info!

  2. Yes, I remember seeing this version many years ago! I even recorded it on TV; but because the VHS cassette I'd recorded it didn't have a very good picture, I recorded over it when the film was re-screened - only to find this version half an hour shorter! The original, full cut (which is what I believe had aired in the 1990s) has a lot more by way of jump-cutting, three much longer in-depth interview scenes with Churchill and his two parents (we only see a small fragment of these in the shorter cut), and the addition of the "ghost" scene at the end, sourced from a short story written by Churchill in the late 1940s.