Brooding Richard Harris is the 17th century Englishman, an idealistic member of the House of Commons, who wishes to rescue his beloved England from its supposedly unfair system where King Charles (Sir Alec Guinness) reigns autocratically and his sycophants do all the talking, not the common man. He takes up the fight with his fellow Parliamentarians against the King and his Royalists, and not just on the battlefield as Cromwell defends the downtrodden who have had no voice. Timothy Dalton plays the King’s rather incompetent, foppish nephew Prince Rupert. Robert Morley is the duplicitous Earl of Manchester, a parliamentary rival of Cromwell’s. Charles Gray, Douglas Wilmer and Geoffrey Keen play Cromwell’s parliamentary allies.
1970 historical biopic from writer-director Ken Hughes (of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” fame) gets generally poor reviews from people probably more qualified to talk about its lack of historical accuracy (among other supposed flaws) than myself. All I can say is that I found it generally persuasive and not at all dull. Harris, whilst not ugly enough for the role in some people’s eyes, is a fine casting choice in my opinion, and I found him most believable and suitably passionate. Also excellent in a top-drawer cast are Guinness (who manages to make you understand the proud and stubborn ruler’s position, and conveys his overall decency), Nigel Stock (one of his meatier character parts), Gray, and the always wonderful Morley (as the film’s only real heavy). A young Timothy Dalton has a good small role, too.
It’s neither the best nor worst costume drama I’ve seen, but I particularly appreciated that it didn’t entirely demonise either of its two opposing main characters, and it’s actually pretty interesting stuff. Not the stuffy, bloated, and cold-hearted film I was expecting from what I had read. Perhaps being unfamiliar with the subject made me more open to this film version (Cromwell is still a hated figure in Ireland and Scotland for reasons I was unfamiliar with when watching the film, so if you’re Scottish or Irish, perhaps this film isn’t for you). I’m usually pretty knowledgeable on historical figures, but I had only vaguely heard of Cromwell before seeing the film.