The Winslow Boy (1948) Review

The Winslow Boy is based on Terence Rattigan’s play inspired by real events concerning one George Archer-Shee who was expelled from the Naval Academy for stealing a postal order from a fellow cadet.

*This review may contain spoilers*


In 1948 Rattigan’s play was adapted for the screen starring Robert Donat, Cedric Hardwicke, Margaret Leighton, Marie Lohr, Frank Lawton, and Neil North. The end result is a fine British film, slow-paced and accurate with it’s portrayal of pre-WWI (early feminism, and the Irish question), you find yourself rooting for the Winslows with Robert Donat as their champion in the form of Sir Robert Morton who is considered to be the best barrister in the country.


Ronnie Winslow (Neil North) and older brother Dickie Winslow (Jack Watling) after Ronnie gets expelled from the Naval Academy.

It was a little matter that could only happened in England, all that fuss for a small boy who was expelled from the Naval Academy for stealing a five shilling postal order. It caused a nationwide arousal, the public begin to mock in whispers of the Winslow boy, his older brother Dickie is told he can no longer attend Oxford due to the family’s financial situation, Mr. Winslow’s health declines, they even plan on letting their maid Violet go and the final straw comes when the father of the man Catherine is engaged to threatens to use his influence to keep her and his son from getting married if they continue on with the case.


Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton and Cedric Hardwicke in The Winslow Boy (1948)

Cedric Hardwicke as the father who will do anything to prove his son innocent dominates the first half of the film. He plays Mr. Winslow as a stern disciplinarian, yet he gives an understated performance with simply the use of his eyes. Margaret Leighton, who plays his daughter Catherine is a suffragette, but not the militant kind she gives balance in this male dominated film and an added charm to her performance as her father’s only ally as well as sacrificing her own desires.  Though he doesn’t appear until near the end of the film he gives a brilliant performance typical of the Donat in his films and here he plays a relentless, cold-hearted barrister who Catherine is prejudiced against. She thinks of him as ‘a supercilious sneering fish’.


Court room scenes are added in this version of The Winslow Boy.

As great as Hardwicke and Leighton are, the film belongs to Donat himself as he plays a man who sacrifices his career for what is right, it is he who dominates the second half of the film. In addition to the fine acting from the ensemble cast, the music hall scenes are a joy to watch featuring Cyril Ritchard and Stanley Holloway.

This is the only version I’ve seen of The Winslow Boy, in other versions viewers have noted on the court room scenes being skipped but here we are able to see a few. My only complaint is that they didn’t show the postmistress being cross-examined which led to the final verdict.

This film was directed by A. A. Asquith, son of H.H. Asquith the prime minister of Britain at the time the film is set.