Cast & Crew
In 1897, newly commissioned Second Lt. Winston Churchill, the twenty-three-year-old son of Lord Randolph Churchill, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and notable Conservative member of Parliament, is in India to fight rebel forces as well as report the action as a correspondent for the London newspaper The Daily Telegraph . Despite the disdain of his superior officers, particularly commanding general Lord Kitchener, for what they perceive as Winston's naiveté and fool-hearted bravery, Winston is determined to act both honorably and heroically: As a boy of seven, Winston is taken to boarding school by his American-born mother, Jennie Jerome Churchill, a fashionable, socially prominent woman, whom young Winston adores as a "fairy princess." Despite his frequent letters imploring them to visit, Jennie and Randolph rarely see the lonely boy, whose most beloved companion is his nurse, Mrs. Everest, whom he calls "Womany." When Winston is cruelly beaten for a minor infraction by his sadistic headmaster, Womany firmly tells Jennie that he will not return to that school. Throughout his adolescence, Winston works hard, first at the prestigious public school Harrow, then at Sandhurst, the British military academy, but he is a poor student, much to the consternation of his stern father. Some time after Randolph resigns his position as Chancellor of the Exchequer following a political disagreement with his party over support for the military, he begins to exhibit periodic and increasingly erratic behavior. Although only the shattered Jennie knows that doctors have diagnosed Randolph with syphilis, the amiable Winston maintains his respect and love for his father, despite Randolph's almost constant rebukes and frequent fits of anger. After Randolph dies at the age of forty-six, the much younger and still beautiful Jennie is left nearly destitute after the family's money is lost in the American stock market, forcing Winston, who is barely in his twenties, to try to support her in the manner in which she has always lived. Through Jennie's social connections, Winston accepts a commission in the British Army that will enable him to report on battlefield activities in India for The Daily Mail . Despite his bravery and growing fame as a writer, Winston continues to be frustrated in his attempts to advance in the Army and writes to Jennie asking her to seek a commission for him in the Sudan. She then writes a pleading note to Lord Kitchener, who rebuffs her in a scathing note to her, the Prince of Wales and others stating that he has no intention of acquiescing to her demands. A short time later, without Kitchener's knowledge, Winston is sent to the Sudan, where he warns the surprised and irritated Kitchener of the imminent advance of the warring Dervishes. After the British are victorious, the now twenty-four-year-old Winston returns home to England, and is coerced by Jennie to stand as a Tory in his father's old Parliamentary district of Oldham. Winston works very hard to win the election, but his lack of experience and a youthful speech impediment, which he has yet to overcome, lead to his defeat. In 1899, at the start of the Boer War, Winston again gains a commission through his mother's intercession and travels to South Africa, where his seemingly fool-hearted bravery again provokes both amusement and irritation among his superior officers. A short time after his arrival, Winston and fellow officer Aylmer Haldane are captured by the Boers as they valiantly defend a British troop train. Imprisoned with Winston near Pretoria, South Africa, Haldane and another officer plan an escape but scorn Winston's enthusiastic assumption that he will go with them. Reminding Haldane that he could have gotten away had he not gone back to the train to help Haldane, Winston shames him into relenting, and they escape one night through the prison latrine. Winston makes his way through South Africa by hiding in a coal car, then jumps off the train before it reaches the border inspection point. Winston eventually makes his way to the home of a farmer named Howard, who, unknown to Winston is English and has secretly been helping British soldiers to escape. For three days Winston is hidden with several other men in a coal mine, where he meets Dewsnap, an Englishman who says that his wife is from Oldham and is an admirer of Winston. While the world's press recounts sensationalized stories of Winston's escape and supposed recapture, with Howard's help, Winston flees on a train to British territory. Jumping to the roof of the train as it passes the frontier to safety, Winston shoots his pistol in air, yelling "I'm free, I'm Winston Bloody Churchill and I'm free." After rejoining the army and helping to free the remaining British prisoners in Pretoria, Winston returns to England, where he is hailed as a hero and wins the Oldham seat in the next Parliamentary election. Although Jennie is proud of him, she fears that his lack of oratory prowess and frequent agreements with Liberals such as David Lloyd George over leaders of his own party will lead to the same downfall as Randolph. However, one evening, when Winston delivers a moving speech in the House of Commons referencing the "tattered flag" of his father's position on military funding, Jennie beams at him from the gallery. Later, after Winston has received resounding cheers and congratulations for his speech, he listens to Jennie discussing his future and casually asks to be introduced to a young woman he saw in a pale yellow dress. Jennie smiles as she tells him that the young woman's name is Miss Clementine Hozier.
Sidney G. Bainsby
William P. Cartlidge
C. D. Staffell
Best Art Direction
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Writing, Screenplay
As expected, the film was much more popular in its own country than the United States since Churchill was recognized as one of England's greatest statesmen. Critic Felix Barker of the Evening News proclaimed it "An Even Greater Film Than Lawrence of Arabia," adding, "In a production so full of subleties, Ii have only space to praise one aspect of Richard Attenborough's brilliant unobtrusive direction. The man who displayed so much virtuosity in Oh! What a Lovely War is here content to paint his canvas with modest delicacy and a perfect sense of period."
The critical response in the U.S. was equally favorable even if the boxoffice receipts were not overly impressive. Richard Cuskelly of The Los Angeles Herald Examiner wrote, "Director Richard Attenborough has recreated with great skill the final halcyon days of the British Empire - a time of rigid morality, ultra-conscientious self-discipline and unsurpassed elegance."
Producer: Carl Foreman; Richard Attenborough (uncredited)
Director: Richard Attenborough
Screenplay: Carl Foreman; The Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill K.G., O.M., C.H., M.P. (based upon "My Early Life: A Roving Commission")
Cinematography: Gerry Turpin
Art Direction: John Graysmark, William Hutchinson
Music: Alfred Ralston
Film Editing: Kevin Connor
Cast: Robert Shaw (Lord Randolph Churchill), Anne Bancroft (Lady Jennie Churchill), Simon Ward (Winston Churchill), Jack Hawkins (Mr. Weldon), Ian Holm (George E. Buckle), Anthony Hopkins (David Lloyd George), Patrick Magee (General Bindon Blood), Edward Woodward (Captain Aylmer Haldane), John Mills (General Kitchener)
Working titles for the film included My Early Years, My Early Life, The Young Winston Churchill, The Young Churchill and The Churchill Story. Simon Ward's name is repeated at the bottom of the cast list in the end credits with the words: "And Sir Winston Churchill's voice by Simon Ward." Carl Foreman's onscreen credit reads: "Written for the screen and produced by." A number of persons and places are acknowledged in the end credits "with gratitude for permission to photograph scenes at." These included Harrow School, Blenheim Palace, Chartwell, Sandhurst Military Academy, the Indoor Riding School at Beaumont Barracks in Aldershot, His Majesty King Hassan II of Morocco and the Moroccan Armed Forces.
When Young Winston opened in Britain, the Variety review listed its running time as 157 minutes. Press information for the film's American release listed a running time of 143 minutes, although most American reviews listed it as 145 minutes, the length of the print viewed. Filmfacts and other contemporary sources reported that the shortened American version was excised of approximately twelve minutes of the story, principally a three-minute epilogue showing an elderly Winston Churchill (played by Sanders Watney) sleeping in front of one of his unfinished paintings and dreaming of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill (Robert Shaw), who expressed his continued "bewilderment at the behavior of his son." In addition to Watney's role, scenes involving actors Willoughby Gray, Raymond Huntley and George Mikell were also cut from the American release. Modern sources include Kevin Hudson in the cast.
The film opens with actual black-and-white newsreel footage of cheering crowds outside Buckingham Palace in London on May 8, 1945, "VE Day," marking the end of European hostilities during World War II. The credits then roll over shots of Churchill's study in his home, Chartwell, followed by still photographs and intermittent archival footage of events throughout his life. The action starts as a photograph of Ward as Churchill dissolves into a sequence set before a battle in India.
During the early parts of the film, the progression of the action frequently switches back and forth between different time periods in Churchill's life, sometimes interspersed with actual photographs or newsreel footage of the era. At the beginning of the film, the action in India is intercut with scenes of varying lengths of a seven-year-old Churchill, then Churchill as an adolescent, switching back and forth between what was happening while Churchill was a reporter/soldier in India and other events in his life. From the point in the film at which Churchill reaches early adulthood, the action proceeds in chronological order.
The last lines of dialogue are spoken in voice-over by Ward as an older Churchill and are very close to the final words of My Early Life, in which Churchill wrote of his future marriage to Clementine Hozier in 1908, approximately seven years after the action of the book and film ends: "and [I] lived happily ever afterward." The final shots of the film return to historical footage of VE Day, in which the real Churchill is seen with King George V and Queen Elizabeth, waving to cheering crowds from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Voice-over narration recurs throughout the film, with Ward and other actors portraying Churchill's voice at different ages, from early childhood through the time period when the book was written. At various times actual letters, news reports, portions of speeches or passages from My Early Life are recited, sometimes by Churchill at different ages, other times by his mother, Jennie Jerome Churchill (Anne Bancroft), his father, Lord Randolph Churchill (Robert Shaw), or other, minor characters. Various speeches, newspaper reports and letters are recreated, sometimes verbatim, from actual speeches, such as the "tattered flag" speech before the House of Commons, and other historical documents.
At one point in the film, the action seems to stop and Bancroft is shown playing the piano in a drawing room where she, as Jennie, is being questioned by an offscreen interviewer, presumably a reporter, who comments on recent and past events, raising pointed questions about her behavior. In the scene, Bancroft speaks in direct address, answering Jennie's critics. Some time later, a similar scene shows Ward as the young adult Churchill being questioned by the same interviewer. Ward at first gives answers in direct address, then moves back, assumes a familiar Churchillian pose and delivers one of the future prime minister's actual speeches. As he does so, Ward changes the cadence of his voice to more closely mimic that of the real Churchill.
Some of the film's action does not advance the plot per se but evokes characterizations and the historical era in which Churchill's early life took place. For example, at one point Jennie visits a butcher (Colin Blakely) to seek the man's vote for her husband, and the butcher's reaction to a woman trying to influence him on politics, as well as his reaction to her beauty and charm, establish her character as well as the social life of the time.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British Prime Minister (1940-1945 and 1951-1955), Nobel Prize-winning author and painter, was the son of Lord Randolph Churchill and American-born Jennie Jerome Churchill. Young Winston was based on Churchill's first autobiographical work, My Early Life: A Roving Commission, published in 1930 and covering his life to age twenty-eight. The book was written at the beginning of a period in Churchill's life that ran from approximately 1929 to 1939 (sometimes stated as 1931 to 1939) that often has been called "The Wilderness Years," during which the future prime minister was not in the cabinet and was considered persona non grata in British politics.
Although some critics charged that the film idealized or glossed over various aspects of Churchill's life, it briefly touches upon many actual incidents, including his imprisonment and escape during the Boer War, and his father's resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer and eventual death from syphilis. Although much of Churchill's international fame as a statesman and writer came years after the events of the film, there are allusions to some of them, including the start of his temporary break from the Conservative (Tory) party in 1904, his stand against Fascism in the 1930s and the shots of what, arguably, was the highpoint of his political life, VE Day in 1945. Shortly after VE Day, Churchill was ousted from office, but again became prime minister, serving from 1951 to 1955.
The film adaptation of My Early Years developed over a period of more than a decade. A October 3, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Paramount producer Martin Rackin had secured a deal with Churchill to produce a film based on My Early Life, tentatively to be called The Young Churchill, after an earlier agreement between the statesman and M-G-M, reportedly for a $100,000 initial payment and a promise of an additional $75,000 upon mutual agreement of the screenplay, had failed to produce a satisfactory script. The article speculated that the Paramount deal with Churchill would be the same as M-G-M's. In March 1961, according to a March 20, 1961 Daily Variety news item, Borden Chase was assigned to write the screenplay on the project, which was to be produced by Hugh French under the working title The Churchill Story, from a treatment by C. S. Forester. However, in July 1961, Daily Variety reported that Guy Trosper was to write the screenplay based on Forester's treatment, which was based on both My Early Life and The World Crisis, a multi-volume Churchill book about World War I.
By late 1963, however, the Paramount deal had fallen through, as reported in a December 6, 1963 Hollywood Reporter news item, which explained that producer Carl Foreman had secured the rights to My Early Life and The World in Crisis and immediately would begin work on the screenplay. The article continued that Foreman's Open Road Films, Ltd. and Highroad Productions, Inc. would produce the picture for Columbia and that French, who had helmed the project while it was at Paramount, would act as an advisor to Foreman. The production credits of the released film contain a small statement reading "An Open Road-Hugh French Presentation," and preview programs included the statement "A Highroad-Hugh French Presentation at the bottom of the printed credits. However, neither Chase, Trosper nor Forester were listed in later sources and the extent of their respective participation in the final production has not been determined.
Other news items in December 1963 reported that production would begin at actual locations covered in the books "next summer." According to the New York Times review and other contemporary sources, Churchill was such an admirer of producer Foreman's 1961 film The Guns of Navarone that the statesman himself suggested to Foreman that he adapt My Early Life to the screen.
Various contemporary sources from 1963 through 1965 related that, after Churchill's January 1965 death, Foreman continued working with the former prime minister's heirs and had intended to start production of the film in late 1965, but an outbreak of hostilities between India and Pakistan delayed the project. A Hollywood Reporter news item on February 16, 1965 announced that Albert Finney was wanted to portray the young Churchill at that time. Daily Variety news items in late 1967 reported that English actor James Fox was set to take on the lead.
As noted in the onscreen credits, interiors for this British-American co-production were shot at Shepperton Studios, London. The onscreen acknowledgments, press materials and reviews add that exteriors were shot in London, at various locations throughout England, in Swansea, Wales and in the Atlas Mountains and other areas of Morocco, where the Indian, Sudanese and South African scenes were shot. According to an article by director of photography Gerry Turpin, the film's period hues and frequently changed landscapes were shot with the Colorflex camera process that he developed to create layers of color and light. Young Winston marked the feature film debut of actor Nigel Hawthorne and the first onscreen film billing for actress Jane Seymour, who was then married to Attenborough's son Michael.
Young Winston had several charity premieres, including a gala, two-theater London premiere that was attended by many members of the Churchill family and then Prime Minister Edward Heath, and a New York premiere attended by the Duke and Duchess of Kent. It was the opening night attraction for Los Angeles' November 1972 Filmex, followed by a premiere the next day in Beverly Hills. The picture received mixed reviews, with some critics acclaiming the acting, particularly of Bancroft and Shaw, while others expressed displeasure with what they deemed a traditional, uncritical biography. Critic Judith Crist of New York magazine applauded the film's innovation, concluding, "The canvas is a large one-and every brush stroke perfection; the total emerges as a glowing and inspiring work." The opposing view was expressed by critics such as Charles Champlin of Los Angeles Times, who called Young Winston "admirable and consistently interesting [but]...not as continuously engrossing or as affecting as I think the makers themselves might have wished." The film received three Academy Award nominations, for Art Direction, Costume Design and Adapted Screenplay. The film was also selected as the Best Picture of the year by the London Film Critics Association and its screenplay was named the best of the year by the Writers Guild of Great Britain.
Churchill has been the subject of many television biographies, and has appeared as a minor character in numerous feature films, but Young Winston was the only theatrically released film in which he was the protagonist. Various dramatized television programs include the 1981 British television mini-series, Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, starring Robert Hardy and Siân Phillips and the 2002 British television drama The Gathering Storm, starring Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave.
The United Kingdom
Released in United States Fall November 1972
Released in United States November 1972
Based on Sir Winston Churchill's memoir "My Early Life: A Roving Commission" (London, 1930).
Released in United States Fall November 1972
Released in United States November 1972 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) November 9-19, 1972.)