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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    Cromwell (UK, 1970)

    Wildly inaccurate........

    Reel history | Cromwell: Oliver's army are on their way to the bargain bin | Film |

    Cromwell: Oliver's army are on their way to the bargain bin

    It's hard to know who to root for in Ken Hughes's wildly inaccurate Civil War drama. Richard Harris's Cromwell is a killjoy grump, and Alec Guinness's Charles I a languid fop with questionable relatives. By Alex von Tunzelmann

    Oliver Cromwell was a political and military leader during the English Civil War. After the execution of King Charles I, he became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. The republic did not long outlast his death in 1658.


    It's 1640, and curmudgeonly Puritan Oliver Cromwell is packing up to move to America with the rest of the fun police. He might not fit in with the Pilgrim Fathers, though: he starts out rabidly pro-king. When one fellow suggests taking up arms against the monarch, Cromwell bellows that it is treason, and throws him out of his house. Then the clown-suited Earl of Manchester puts enclosures round the common lands. Cromwell rages and fumes at the king's toff-friendly policies. Then he's in a church and, would you believe it, some royal twit has only gone and put gold things on the altar. Cromwell completely loses his rag, chucking plates and candlesticks hither and thither while yelling about graven images. "God damn this king!" he howls. It's only 20 minutes in, and already the film's apparent hero, played by Richard Harris as if suffering from acute constipation, has lost the audience's sympathy. Unless, of course, you just can't get enough of wild-eyed, pompous, middle-aged men shouting fundamentalist diktats at you. It's like watching Fox News.


    The hero void cannot be filled by languid fop-in-chief Charles I (Alec Guinness). Inaccurately, Cromwell suggests that England become a democracy. "Democracy, Mr Cromwell," replies the king, "was a Greek drollery based on the foolish notion that there are extraordinary possibilities in very ordinary people." And then he flies off on his broomstick, surrounded by winged monkeys. No, not really. Cromwell goes on to suggest that everyone should have schools and universities as well as democracy, and someone even talks about votes for the poor and underprivileged. This is completely wrong. The groups that spoke for the rights of the common man during the English Civil War were the Levellers and the Diggers. Cromwell suppressed both. Some Levellers actually went on to ally with Royalists. Absent entirely from the movie, too, is his Irish campaign, which even in its most forgiving interpretation doesn't do much for Old Ironsides's supposed status as a hero of liberation.


    At the Battle of Edgehill, Charles's dashing nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine (Timothy Dalton) arrives with his big flashy sword and fluffy white poodle, the latter groomed to match his elaborately plumed hat. Rupert did have such a poodle, Boy, which was the envy of the Grand Turk. It was often seen on the battlefield, and ultimately joined the death toll at the Battle of Marston Moor. Prince and pooch are shown leading the Royalists to a resounding victory, despite Cromwell's brave frontline fighting. This isn't true at all. Edgehill was inconclusive, and Cromwell arrived a day too late to fight. Predictably, he reacts by shouting even more, and stomps off to form the New Model Army. Cue a training montage of recruits struggling over fences, clashing swords together and decapitating straw Royalists. Thereafter the film skips directly to the Battle of Naseby, at which it claims the Parliamentarians were outnumbered. That's exactly the wrong way round.


    The most accurate scenes are those of Charles's goodbyes to his children and execution, and even those aren't right. His marriage is portrayed as a half-hearted struggle against a scheming Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria, lazily characterised as Lady Macbeth. Playing Charles, Guinness aims for quiet dignity, and achieves stilted apathy. When king and queen kiss goodbye, the earth stays resolutely still. Finally, the axe falls, and the executioner holds up the king's severed head, crying "Behold the head of a traitor!" Famously, these words were not said at Charles's execution: the executioner wished to remain anonymous. A few not especially credible rumours said it was Cromwell himself. Unfortunately, this is followed by yet more scenes of parliamentary debates on committees of inquiry, which are exactly as thrilling as they sound.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    Richard Harris sounds as if he had laryngitis when he was making this film. Or maybe he was a very heavy smoker and it was affecting his voice.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: United States will.15's Avatar
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    Richard Harris sounds as if he had laryngitis when he was making this film. Or maybe he was a very heavy smoker and it was affecting his voice.
    According to Alan Jay Lerner, Harris was drunk during much of the filming of Camelot. According to Lerner, Burton, who played Arthur on the stage, also drank heavily, but it never showed when performing.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: England jaycad's Avatar
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    i think mel gibson should do a version where the americans,australians,scottish,welsh,irish,indians ,isle of manians,isle of wightians,isle of skyeians etc all unite and convince oliver cromwell that the english are very bad people and paint their faces in a rainbow pattern and overthrow charles I (played by jeffrey archer) and to emigrate to the USA as it is the land of hope!

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: UK
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    Wildly inaccurate........

    The review doesn't pick up on the fact that in this film both the commons and lords seem to sit in the same chamber with Harris exchanging insults with the evil reactionary lords seated opposite him. Presumably this was done for dramatic effect. Fairfax (Douglas Wilmer) seems to come off as being particularly slimey although wasn't it him who was really responsible for the New Model Army rather than Cromwell?

    Cromwell was also not one of the five members arrested in the commons but in this film he is.

    I found the screenplay very odd - as The Guardian points out Cromwell is irrational and unsympathetic from virtually the word go yet the cumulative impact of the historical inaccuracies (and downright lies if one is honest) is to try and make him the film's hero. And yes, his "reign" as Lord Protector is completely ignored. Consequently, Guiness, concentrating hard on his Scottish accent, comes off more sympathetically which was surely not the intention.

    A pity, because this is the only "serious" major film about the most tumultuous (and fascinating) period in English history.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: Great Britain
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    My favourite quote from the period is from the Royalist Earl of Berkshire on the subject of The English Civil War (1642-49): "Nobody can tell what we have fought about all this time".

  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    I know it is inaccurate, but this is a terrifically entertaining film. It's worth seeing for Alec Guinness alone. He is not always a favorite of mine. But he is outstanding in this role and manages to convey the king's character with an absolute minimum of gestures and expressions.

    I remember seeing this when I was ten in our local theatre back in 1970. I remember that there were only a few people in the theatre. A film like this should be seen on the large screen.

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