When a young cadet is accused of theft and expelled from a government Naval Academy, one of England’s great barristers fights for his right to a fair trial. Based on a true story. [ The Winslow Boy credits: Dir: Anthony Asquith/ Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton, Cedric Hardwicke/ 117 min/ Drama/ Law & Liberty]
“The script, based on the Terence Rattigan play of the same name, is literary. Many parts are well played. Robert Donat, in particular, shines in the leading role as barrister, a virtual personification of ice-cold justice.”
“It is not Winslow’s guilt or Winslow’s innocence that concerns us now. It is something greater by far. It is Winslow’s right as a common citizen of England to be heard, to be heard in defense of his honor, so wantonly pitched into the mire because of this monstrous assumption … that ‘the King can do no wrong.’” This last phrase refers to the government’s claim to immunity from civil suit, which the heroic barrister fights all the way into Parliament in order to secure a hearing for his wrongfully accused client.
This great and peculiarly British story begins when the boy at the center of these events is expelled from a government Naval Academy for allegedly stealing a money order. He protests his innocence to anyone who will listen, even under the most grueling questioning. However, the Naval Academy arbitrarily denies his request for a fair trial and defends its denial with the legal shield that “the King can do no wrong.” Neither side will give in, and thus begins this three-year-long battle between a middle-class family and its government over a matter of principle.
Of course, libertarians are not opposed to anyone being expelled from a private institution, with or without a hearing, according to voluntary agreement. But in this situation the student and Naval Academy relationship is not entirely voluntary. And anyway the government’s presumption that it is above the law, however constituted, makes this a sympathetic case.
The Winslow Boy is also superior entertainment. The script, based on the Terence Rattigan play of the same name, is literary. Many parts are well played. Robert Donat, in particular, shines in the leading role as barrister, a virtual personification of ice-cold justice. This is a particularly popular film among Randians.