Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Cromwell" is a lavish spectacle

Cleveland Press February 19, 1971

"Cromwell" is playing at the Center-Mayfield and Detroit. Historical movie; general audiences. In the cast are Richard Harris, Alec Guinness, Robert Morley, Dorothy Tutin. Running time: 141 minutes.

"Cromwell" is an excellent historical spectacle movie, the kind of lavishly mounted picture that film observers keep saying are gone forever because of the high costs of making them.

Well, "Cromwell" is a new movie and shares all the virtues and a few of the faults of its type with the virtues coming out ahead of the faults.

The picture's chief drawback is no fault of its own, and that is that it deals with the English civil war, in which King Charles I achieved the dubious distinction of being not only overthrown but beheaded. The problem is that the conflict may be strange to American audiences.

There is enough good in the movie however that you need be neither a history student nor an Anglophile to enjoy it, though it might help.

Richard Harris plays the title role, that of the onetime farmer turned military commander who led the forces of Parliament against the king and who eventually became lord protector of the Commonwealth.

So far as acting honors are concerned the picture belongs to Alec Guinness as the king. Guinness assumes a historically accurate speech impediment in the role, a dangerous thing for any but the most skillful and confident actor to do. He bears a physical resemblance as well if portraits of Charles I are to be trusted.

The performance goes beyond tricks and makeup. It is a moving portrayal of a man who is both tyrannical and pathetic.

Harris does well in the title role, though his techniques are more obviously tricks as he allows his voice to sometimes roar and at other moments sink to a hoarse whisper.

Both characters are softened somewhat for the film. Charles I is not quite the tyrant he was and Cromwell is portrayed as a reluctant leader, sometimes a dictator only if you read between the lines and a man whose religious zeal is indicated without making it the all-consuming passion it undoubtedly was.

Like most historical movies the long view that is offered is the best, giving casual observers a good enough picture of the period and the events. In detail it tends to telescope and distort in a manner to cause scholars to shudder.

"Cromwell" works best as spectacle. The battle scenes between the Royalists and Roundheads (the forces of Parliament) are treated on a vast canvas.

After the first battle, which results in Cromwell's defeat, the leader is shown taking his raw troops and turning them into skilled soldiers, a sort of Cromwell's Commandos.

The behind-the-scenes moments in the palace have Dorothy Tutin looking sinister as Guinness' Catholic wife and queen who is urging him on to greater harshness against his Puritan enemies. Charles is pictured somewhere in the religious middle, though not quite ecumenical. There are times when his decisions seemed to be based more on a desire for domestic tranquility than for political expediency.

History has preserved a sufficiency of words from both men to give the screenplay some lofty moments. What the screen writers have provided in between is a little less than lofty. However, the camera works beautifully even when the script doesn't.