WolfmanOz at the Movies #35

God Save the King !

Historical dramas have long been a staple of cinema, whether based on fact or fiction, they have provided a countless sources of topic/plots over the years.

One of my particular favourites is the film Cromwell starring Richard Harris as Oliver Cromwell and Alec Guinness as King Charles I. The film depicts the rise of Cromwell and the depiction of the English Civil War which lead to the trial and execution of the king.

One of the reasons why the film still resonates with me today is that I saw it on first release way back in 1970 and it was a special treat seeing the film with my mum at an evening session during the school week. We were also studying this period of history at school, and being a keen student of history (thanks again to my mum) I lapped up the film.

On reflection, the film does take some liberties with the events eg. it raises Cromwell’s profiles and leadership of the New Model Army whereas it was Sir Thomas Fairfax who was the main driver of it; which is disappointing as it depicts the look and feel of the period splendidly and it does present the complex issues of the conflict between parliament and king very well in a two hour plus movie.

Today, I look back at more to savour one of Alec Guinness’s finest film performances as the vain, weak but ultimately tragic king. It’s a great performance where he captures the king’s nuances, his stammer and his obstinate nature that ultimately cost him his crown and his life.


Of course Alec Guinness is most famous for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars trilogy, but really they were only a sideshow to his really great film roles – Fagin in Oliver Twist, eight D’Ascoyne’s in Kind Hearts And Coronets, his Ealing roles in The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man In The White Suit, Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge On The River Kwai (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor) Tunes Of Glory, Lawrence Of Arabia . . . the list goes on. For me, he’s one of cinema’s great actors.

One should not forget Richard Harris who brings enormous statue and earnestness to the role of Cromwell, one of English history’s most polarising figures.


For those that are interested I have created the following playlist from this film which features 10 clips in total.

Cromwell Playlist


WW Movie Clips

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Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
August 25, 2022 10:54 am

I saw it at the cinema likewise, a fine movie. It has some relevance now as we are soon to experience the reign of Charles III, who seems to have similar quirks as Charles I. Memo to British monarchs: never name your sons “Charles”.

Another of a like historical period is A Man For All Seasons, which was also a fine movie as I recall.

incoherent rambler
incoherent rambler
August 25, 2022 11:07 am

Up there in my top movies of all time.

Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
August 25, 2022 12:04 pm

Wolfman – One of the things I’m sad about the current age is that historical movies like these can’t now be made. British imperialism and slavery and all that. At best we get is inane costume drama adaptations of Jane Austen. So the advances in CGI aren’t ever applied to material which would be epic on the big screen.

Think for example what would a real treatment of the Spanish Armada could be like? The characters on both sides were extremely photogenic, the campaign would be full of action and pathos. But such a movie would never get up because of the plague of woke.

August 25, 2022 12:13 pm

are soon to experience the reign of Charles III, who

He can choose any name as his regnal name, but tradition is you use any of your given names, so we could get Chuck 3, or king Phillip, or king Arthur, or George 7.

August 25, 2022 12:22 pm

I reckon he’ll go for George VII.

The 70’s had some excellent historic movies – Mary, Queen of Scots was another. Jackson made a terrific Elizabeth I. Naturally, we all swooned over Timothy Dalton.

August 25, 2022 12:40 pm

The 70’s had some excellent historic movies…

As did the 1960s – David Lean, et. al..

For a historical movie/literary adaptation, I don’t think anything can surpass monumental Sergei Bondarchuk’s War & Peace, which came out about 1968. I was fortunate enough to see it in a cinema in the mid-1980s, the original four parts being divided into two 3.5 hour sittings with a generous intermission.

August 25, 2022 12:42 pm

The film was monumental…maybe Bondarchuk too, as he both directed and played Pierre superbly.

August 25, 2022 1:07 pm

Re Alec Guinness – not a movie, but his masterful performance as Smiley in the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy BBC mini-series was a highlight of his career. David Cornwell, aka John Le Carre, said that after watching it, he could only visualise Smiley as per Guinness’ depiction. Truly one of the greats of the C20th.

Historical movies are more noted for their flaws than their pluses, IMO, especially those made by American studios. There are some outstanding exceptions, but as a genre they are very unreliable sources of information. It’s usually best to enjoy them purely as entertainment. 🙂

Anchor What
Anchor What
August 25, 2022 3:54 pm

Guinness is extraordinary, in The Ladykillers (another Ealing film). It remains one of my all-time favourites. It’s full of roles for character actors, including the peerless little old lady – and her house, so characterful in itself, perched above the busy railway lines that also play a pivotal role.

Old School Conservative
Old School Conservative
August 25, 2022 4:53 pm

Cromwell’s speech during the coup d’état could, with just a few words changed, be a magnificent start to the resurrection of truly conservative values in Oz.
Donald’s Make America Great Again was undoubtedly copied from Cromwell/Harris Make England Great Again.
We could do worse than have such a figure leading a reformation in Oz.

Old bloke
Old bloke
August 25, 2022 7:16 pm

“Our Man in Havana” is worthy of a mention too.

Old bloke
Old bloke
August 25, 2022 7:18 pm

“Our Man in Havana” is worthy of a mention too.

… in reference to Alec Guinness, not historical dramas.

Also, not in reference to our esteemed foreign correspondent, Dr. BG.

Louis Litt
Louis Litt
August 25, 2022 9:59 pm

Wow Wolfie, I as only thinking. About this after reading your article – British films last week.
Richard McArthur Park Harris – he does not spoof saliva all over the screen like that blubbering Kenneth Branagh for dramatic effect.
Yuk oh the horror, the horror

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare
August 25, 2022 11:14 pm

They may not be historically accurate but I still love historical movies. The costumes alone can immerse you in another world and time. I haven’t seen this Cromwell but will try to catch it soon, as I am currently revisiting that period very much with my family history researches – we came over as agricultural Huguenots from the Low Countries, with Cornelius Vermuyden, assisting the major fen drainages in 1629 or earlier. My ancestors wore those hats!

August 26, 2022 2:29 pm

Bruce of Newcastle says:
August 25, 2022 at 10:54 am

Memo to British monarchs: never name your sons “Charles”.

Of course, Charles is at liberty, through precedent, to take a different name as he ascends the throne.

Not sure whether he’ll deliver a popcorn-worthy moment, though.

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