Cromwell (1970) with Richard Harris and Alec Guinness

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1970 cromwell

England has long been known for its epic films especially those involving well, English things. 1970’s Cromwell makes what would be for some time the last attempt at such a film. Ken Hughes and a cast led by stalwart actors Alec Guinness and Richard Harris take us through Oliver Cromwell’s revolt against Charles I.

Director Ken Hughes takes us on a surprisingly short ride- even the 141 minute run time doesn’t seem to take that long, though one wonders how the original 180 minute version would have fared. Cromwell garnered two Academy Award nominations, for Costume Design and Original Score. It won the former but lost the latter to Francis Lai’s score for Love Story. I still think Goldsmith’s score for Patton the strongest and most deserving of the award. Composer Frank Cordell’s score for Cromwell seems at some points trite, others misplaced, but mainly just loud.

cromwell 1970 richard harrisBeing a history geek, this type of movie should be right up my alley, and in many ways it is. That being said, the same aspects which hold allure for me will surely make it assume certain aspects of leprosy for many would be viewers. The first hour, give or take, is full of long speeches and parliamentary discourse, which isn’t engrossing film for most.

And, historically speaking, the film is replete with more inaccuracies than one can mention. Although all films of this genre have historical issues- it is just the nature of the beast- here we have an incorrect timeline, folks doing things after (in fact) they had died, etc. But again, only a history buff would realize these things and they are not noticeable otherwise.

cromwell 1970 trainingHowever, the plot is a bit underdeveloped and those without a knowledge of the history of the time will find some of the gaps and plot jumps hard to follow. Even I said, “What, they skipped…” a few times. Be forewarned.

For all the inaccuracies, the battle scenes are relatively correct in this regard, reflecting tactics of the day. There are definitely montages lifted from other films, most obviously a sequence where Cromwell is training his army which takes us right back to Kirk Douglas and Spartacus.

cromwell 1970 parliamentThe historical negatives aside, the performances of Richard Harris as Cromwell and Alec Guinness as King Charles I are wonderful. Harris’ Cromwell is passionate and earnest if sometimes over the top- especially in some of his earlier discourses. Younger audiences would be well advised to check this one out just to see him in something other than Harry Potter films.

And Guinness as a torn King who ultimately loses his head almost steals the picture entirely. Watch the subtle changes in his eyes and face throughout individual scenes, especially those involving his Queen, and you’ll see what made him such a tremendous actor.

cromwell 1970 alec guinness 2But he is still best known today for traipsing around the Tunisian desert seven years later as a retiring Jedi master, Obi-Wan Kenobi- a role he detested. The film- oh, that would be the little know 1977 release Star Wars.

For those who dare Cromwell is available in numerous formats, both standard DVD and both iTunes and amazon. The two latter both offer for purchase and rental, though amazon as of this righting is cheaper in both areas.

It spite of the faults of the picture, a rather enjoyable romp!