The Winslow Boy (1948)


The Winslow Boy (1948)

In Edwardian England, a thirteen year-old cadet, Ronnie Winslow, is expelled from the naval academy at Osborne for stealing a seven shilling postal order. His father and sister become obsessed with proving his innocence at any cost to themselves, and turn the case into a national cause celebre.
IMDb  7.6 /10
Director Anthony Asquith
Writer Terence Rattigan
Writer Anatole de Grunwald
Release Date1948-11-08
Runtime1h 57mins
Content RatingNot Rated (Not Rated)
Awards2 nominations.
CompanyLondon Film Productions, De Grunwald Productions
Sir Robert Morton
Arthur Winslow (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
Desmond Curry
Catherine Winslow
Violet - the maid
Attorney General
Grace Winslow
Dickie Winslow
John Watherstone
Ronnie Winslow
Colonel Watherstone
Hugh Dempster
Hugh Dempster
Agricultural Member
Evelyn Roberts
Evelyn Roberts
Hamilton M.P.
Brian O'Rourke

The Winslow Boy (1948 film)

The Winslow Boy is a 1948 British 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.

After aggressively interrogating Ronnie over discrepancies in his recollection and his habit of copying his friend's signature (which purportedly could have been used to steal the postal order), Sir Robert is convinced Ronnie is innocent and agrees to take the case.

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 wins 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.


  • Robert Donat as Sir Robert Morton
  • Cedric Hardwicke as Arthur Winslow
  • Basil Radford as Desmond Curry
  • Margaret Leighton as Catherine Winslow
  • Kathleen Harrison as Violet
  • Francis L. Sullivan as Attorney General
  • Marie Lohr as Grace Winslow
  • Jack Watling as Dickie Winslow
  • Walter Fitzgerald as First Lord
  • Frank Lawton as John Watherstone
  • Neil North as Ronnie Winslow
  • Nicholas Hannen as Colonel Watherstone
  • Hugh Dempster as Agricultural Member
  • Evelyn Roberts as Hamilton MP

  • W.A. Kelley as Brian O'Rourke
  • Edward Lexy as First Elderly Member
  • Gordon McLeod as Second Elderly Member
  • Marie Michelle as Mrs. Curry
  • Mona Washbourne as Miss Barnes
  • Ivan Samson as Captain Flower
  • Kynaston Reeves as Lord Chief Justice
  • Charles Groves as Clerk of the Court
  • Ernest Thesiger as Mr. Ridgeley Pierce
  • Vera Cook as Violet's friend
  • Stanley Holloway as Comedian
  • Cyril Ritchard as Music Hall Singer
  • Noel Howlett as Mr. Williams (uncredited)
  • Wilfrid Hyde-White as Wilkinson (uncredited)

Differences from the play

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, just prior to World War I.


Box office

The Winslow Boy was one of the most popular films at the British box office in 1948.


The picture was nominated for the BAFTA UN award for 1949.


Writing in The New York Times however, Bosley Crowther compared the film unfavourably to the play, "staged with superlative finish on Broadway two seasons ago," but praised the "sparkling performance" of Robert Donat, and concluded, that despite these reservations, "the screen has a striking and an inspiring picture in 'The Winslow Boy'"; The Monthly Film Bulletin noted, "It is very much a period piece, in which the middle class, with its comforts, its unlovely interiors and hideous clothes, is very much in evidence. It is too long, and would benefit by judicious cutting," although the reviewer concluded, "This is quite definitely a film to see and enjoy"; while more recently, Dennis Schwartz found the film to be "directed with great care for feeling and detail (the period settings are superb) by Anthony Asquith," and that it "proves to be excellent middle-class entertainment," and concluded by singling out Donat, "superb as the witty and elegant lawyer, who also has grit and compassion."