THREE STARS - Wholesome
If the 1950's were the era of wholesome and mythical “Father Knows Best” images in the media, then the 1990's will probably be characterized by the all too common dysfunctional images of “Roseanne” and “Married With Children.”
It is therefore a nice surprise to find this quiet little film with a "G" rating that portrays a loving and healthy family. “The Winslow Boy” tells the tale of a father's love for his son and the degree to which the father stands by his child through thick and thin.
Based on a true yet timeless story, this 1946 Terence Rattigan play takes place in early 20th Century England.
The story begins with the Winslow family returning from church and pondering the ethical questions raised by the sermon they have heard. Little do they know that within hours, their own family will be tested by its own ethical dilemma. As is often the case, when we ponder a potential dilemma we are soon tested with a similar issue.
Arthur Winslow (Nigel Hawthorne) is the head of the household. He is a man steeped in the Victorian era, yet his stern demeanor is a mask for a loving heart. He is equally matched in marriage to Grace Winslow (Gemma Jones), a woman of grace with a nurturing character. Also of strength is their daughter, Catherine (Rebecca Pideon), who as an activist suffragette is determined to break the confines of the traditional roles of women.
And finally, there is their young son, Ronnie (Guy Edwards II), who at age 13 is in a Navel Academy prep school. It is this young Winslow boy around which the film centers when he returns home unexpectedly bearing a letter from his Headmaster which dismisses him from the school. Ronnie has been accused of stealing a five shilling postal note from another school boy and, having been pronounced guilty by the school, he has been expelled.
As is always the case, Ronnie's father can make one of three choices. He can accept the outside counsel of his son's school on face value and extend his own punishment. He can ignore the counsel of the school and live in denial of his son's actions. Or, he can take his son into his loving confidence and explore the truth and its consequences with him. It is this third choice which Arthur chooses and which exemplifies the love that this father has for his son.
Arthur has made it clear to his son that he must always tell the truth. If he doesn’t, he will eventually be found out and punished accordingly. But if the truth is told, then Arthur will stand by his son to do anything to clear his name.
Here is the ultimate love we all seek from a father: to be loved through thick and thin when we honestly confess our heart.
Looking for an advocate for his son, the Winslows turn to Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam) who, besides being a Barrister, is also a member of the House of Commons. Before Sir Robert will take on the case, he tests young Ronnie and verbally challenges his integrity. Ronnie stands firm and answers each of Sir Robert's questions honestly. Just when it appears that Sir Robert doesn’t believe him, he announces that he will take the case and declares the innocence of the young boy.
As is often the case in our own lives, just when circumstances appear to be the most painful and we feel abandoned, we find that others are testing the metal from which we are forged in order to prepare to walk alongside us.
Through all of this, Arthur Winslow and his family must live with their own doubts about their choice to defend their son. Wouldn't Ronnie have suffered less if they had just quietly buried the issue and moved on in life? Hasn't all this notoriety just torn the family apart? Even Ronnie's sister Catherine, who was engaged to be married, has had the wedding called off due to her suitor's distaste for the media attention on the Winslow household.
Arthur Winslow consoles himself by returning in meditation to the same Biblical story that the family was discussing the morning that Ronnie returned home from school. This time though, instead of focusing on the feasting portion of the Old Testament story, he focuses on how God stood with Israel through the times of famine. God our heavenly Father can always be counted on to be there through times of trial.
And so, in the end the truth wins out. Young Ronnie, on hearing the news that he has been declared innocent, reacts with little surprise. After all, his father had believed his innocence months before, and that is what counted most.