The story, set just before the First World War, concerns a 14-year old naval cadet who is wrongly accused of the theft of a five shilling postal order and is subsequently expelled. His father, Arthur believes his son to be innocent and begins the arduous campaign to seek a fair trial. The cost to the family in both financial and emotional terms is great and, as such, makes the audience ultimately question Arthur’s motives in pursuing his quest to achieve justice for his youngest son.
The whole play is set in the Winslow’s London drawing room, so, despite the play revolving around the outcome of a courtroom, we never enter it. Instead we’re flies on the wall, watching and waiting to see the effect on the whole family of the intransigence of the Establishment in taking two years to finally see justice done.
The secret to the audience totally believing that we’re watching a real family is the interaction between Henry Goodman’s Arthur and Deborah Findlay’s Grace Winslow. They are totally believable and Henry Goodman in particular shows a loving tenderness towards his family, whilst at the same time letting us know that this is one stubborn man who is not to be trifled with. It is only towards the end of the play that we observe the terrible toll the whole event is having on his health and determination. He seems to shrink and weaken before our eyes. Meanwhile Deborah Findlay, although at times appearing silly and somewhat shallow, never fails to portray the loving mother and her eventual anger at her stubborn husband is brilliantly judged. The three Winslow offspring also work very well together, from Naomi Frederick as Catherine the Suffragette daughter, Nick Hendrix as Dickie the lazy student to the boy himself, Ronnie, the excellent newcomer, Charlie Rowe. Peter Sullivan as eminent lawyer, Sir Robert Morton, also gives a strong performance, although I did find his interrogation of young Ronnie a little too heavy handed.
I have never before credited The Winslow Boy as having much humour, but under Lindsay Posner’s excellent direction, there are chuckles to be had, especially during the opening scenes. Whilst perhaps feeling a tad too long, this is one Rattigan play I did enjoy.