Monday, 16 January 2017

Cromwell (1970)

"An England without a king is unthinkable!"

I watched this film principally because I wanted to see two great actors- Richard Harris and Alec Guinness- play two iconic roles from history; Oliver Cromwell and Charles I. And they are, indeed, magnificent. Their performances- Harris as a principled sociopath slowly descending into a dictatorial sociopath and Guinness as a politely arrogant congenital liar- are superlative and alone enough to make the film worth watching. The film succeeds brilliantly if seen as a character piece based on its broadly valid idea of Cromwell- a man who can honestly give everything for the supremacy of Parliament and then simply dismiss it when it does not live up to his expectations. For this reason the film succeeds as drama in spite of being so incredibly rush and in spite of its ending so suddenly.

And yet... no film set in the past can be historically accurate in full. I accept this. Events must be compressed into a shorter period of time and simplified to fit the medium of cinema. And yet... here we have Cromwell as one of those MPs whom Charles tries to arrest in January 1642. We have Cromwell present at Edgehill. We have the Earls of Essex and Manchester making speeches in the Commons. We even have arch-republican Henry Ireton (a shockingly young Michael Jayson) trying to persuade Cromwell to take the crown, in spite of having died during the (glossed over) Irish campaign in 1651. All this is a little much to swallow; these are not small things.

I'm also uncertain about the dialogue; a film set in the mid-seventeenth century should either use modern dialogue or contrive to use contemporary speech but contrive to favour those sentence constructions and that vocabulary that would be understood today, preferably the second. Instead we get a bizarre mish-mash of speech which mixes archaisms such as "withal" with modern coinings such as "international". The effect is clumsy and distracting.

Still, it all looks magnificent and, in the final analysis, it's all about the acting. And, judged by this criterion, the film is superb.

No comments:

Post a Comment