The Winslow Boy is a 1948 film adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play The Winslow Boy. It was made by De Grunwald Productions and distributed by the British Lion Film Corporation. It was directed by Anthony Asquith and produced by Anatole de Grunwald with Teddy Baird as associate producer. The adapted screenplay was written by de Grunwald and Rattigan based on Rattigan's play. The music score was by William Alwyn and the cinematography by Freddie Young.
The film stars Robert Donat, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Margaret Leighton with Basil Radford, Kathleen Harrison, Francis L. Sullivan, Marie Lohr and Jack Watling (who was also in the original West End theatre production). Also in the cast are Stanley Holloway, Mona Washbourne, Ernest Thesiger, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Lewis Casson, Cyril Ritchard and Dandy Nichols. Neil North, who plays the title role, also appeared in the 1999 film adaptation directed by David Mamet.
Set against the strict codes of conduct and manners of the age, The Winslow Boy is based on a father's fight to clear his son's name. The boy (Ronnie) is expelled from Osborne Naval College for supposedly stealing a five shilling postal order, without receiving a fair trial. His father (Arthur) and sister (Catherine) lead a long running legal battle, that takes them as far as the House of Commons. The play focuses on a refusal to back down in the face of injustice – the entire Winslow family, and the barrister who represents them (Sir Robert Morton), make great sacrifices in order that right be done.
The play was inspired by an actual event, which set a legal precedent; the case of George Archer-Shee, a cadet at Osborne in 1908, who was accused of stealing a postal order from a fellow cadet. His elder brother, Major Martin Archer-Shee, was convinced of his innocence, and persuaded his father (also called Martin) to engage lawyers. The most respected barrister of the day, Sir Edward Carson was also persuaded of his innocence, and insisted on the case coming to court. On the fourth day of the trial, the Solicitor General accepted that Archer-Shee was innocent, and ultimately the family was paid compensation. George Archer-Shee died in the First World War and his name is inscribed on the war memorial in the village of Woodchester in Gloucestershire where his parents lived. There is no real world counterpart to the character of Catherine, although she is central to the plot of the play and films.
Ronnie Winslow (Neil North), a cadet at the Royal Naval College, is accused of the theft of a postal order. An internal enquiry which grants him no chance of defence, finds him guilty and his father, Arthur Winslow (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), is requested to remove his son from the college. Unwilling to accept the verdict, Winslow and his daughter Catherine institute their own enquiries and engage a friend and family solicitor, Desmond Curry (Basil Radford) to assist them, including the briefing of the best barrister in England at the time, Sir Robert Morton (Robert Donat), should the case come to court.
The government is unwilling to allow the case to proceed, but after heated debates in the House of Commons, the government yields, and the case does come to court. Morton is able to discredit much of the supposed evidence and the government finally withdraws the charges against Ronnie. Although the family win the case, each of them has lost something along the way: Dickie Winslow (Jack Watling) has been forced to leave Oxford due to the lack of money, Catherine (Margaret Leighton) loses her marriage settlement and subsequently her fiancé, John Weatherstone (Frank Lawton), and Arthur Winslow loses his health.
Unlike the play and the David Mamet remake, the 1948 film shows the actual trial, while in other versions, the trial occurs offstage and the audience is told (but not shown) what occurred during it.
The film was shot in early 1948.
The Archer-Shee case took place in 1908, while the film is set in 1912.
It was one of the most popular films at the British box office in 1948. The picture was nominated for the BAFTA UN award for 1948.