Richard Attenborough moved on from the Brechtian musical-comedy horrors of his directing debut, OH, WHAT A LOVELY WAR/’69, to the bio-pics he became best known for with his second film, an unexpectedly jolly look at Winston Churchill’s sentimental education in war & politics. And while Attenborough already shows signs of the stiff pacing, misframed shots* & paint-by-numbers characterizations that made some his later acclaimed films feel like historical textbooks, the script from producer Carl Foreman has a ‘Pop’ orientation that doesn't oversell itself. The film is fun. One set piece with a train under attack even shows Attenborough aping, quite nicely, a Western sensibility, with the Boers as ‘In’juns’ attacking the (British) infantry. Too bad the interior domestic scenes, back in England, have traces of Dickie's default waxwork manner; and he will insist on squeezing in cameo appearances from half his acting pals. But there are uncommonly good perfs from Robert Shaw as Lord Randolph Churchill and a tremendous quasi-channeling of the young lion himself from Simon Ward. Talk about a face that ‘takes’ to the camera! Ward, who died last year, worked steadily, but his career never took off the way you’d have thought after this. Anne Bancroft is less well matched as Jennie, Winston’s famous American mum, but she does get to wear some gorgeous hats! (Look for the one in fuchsia.) NOTE: If the film seems to be missing a final ‘beat,’ it’s because . . . the film is missing its final beat. That is, while the available DVD restores most of the cuts (including some awkward one-sided interviews for the principals), a final ghostly chat between Winston & his late-father which once ended the film remains missing.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *There's a perfect example of this early in the pic as Winston charges on foot against some savage enemy. We hear gunshots and see his attackers falling, but Attenborough frames his shot so we can't see that it's Winston who's holding the gun and blasting away. We assume some seasoned officer has come to the rescue of this new pup.