It took me several years to get around to purchasing "The Winslow Boy". Although I was certain that I would like it--after all, Nigel Hawthorne was in it--I had no idea that I was in for an hour-and-a-half of such absorbing drama. In one of his last roles, Hawthorne brings a poignant combination of strength and tenderness to the role of the patriarch, whose determination to "let right be done" almost breaks apart the family that he is trying to preserve. His scenes with Gemma Jones--torn apart by her conflicting roles as loyal wife and loving mother--are especially moving. Because of the ensemble acting of the entire cast, the family dynamic is entirely believable.
The real surprise for me, however, was Jeremy Northam in the role of Sir Robert Morton, KC, MP. Although Northam's performances in films such as "Gosford Park" and "Enigma" have been enjoyable, his portrayal of the aristocratic barrister quietly sizzled with sensual undertones that would do a handsome brooding Jane Austen hero proud. I found myself waiting for him to come onstage, as it were; and wishing that I could hear his moving summation to the jury; and that I might be allowed to follow Sir Robert's romantic pursuit of Miss Winslow. The last lines of the film are simply tantalizing.
Much of this "wanting more of Morton" derives not only from Northam's portrayal, but also from playwright Terrance Rattigan's technique of having the action take place offstage. The technique, which dates back to Greek tragedy, contributes to the dramatic tension of "The Winslow Boy." The very device of having characters relate the events taking place elsewhere, however, will likely render the drama inaccessible to some viewers, who demand fast-paced visual action. But for those who savor a riveting drama of quality, "The Winslow Boy" will not disappoint.