Young Winston

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Young Winston
Young Winston.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Attenborough
Written byCarl Foreman
Produced byCarl Foreman
StarringSimon Ward
Robert Shaw
Anne Bancroft
Anthony Hopkins
John Mills
CinematographyGerry Turpin
Edited byKevin Connor
Music byAlfred Ralston (includes original music and his arrangements of works by Edward Elgar)[1]
Distributed byColumbia Pictures (through Columbia-Warner Distributors[2])
Release date
  • 28 July 1972 (1972-07-28)
Running time
157 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$2,150,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[3]

Young Winston is a 1972 British biographical adventure drama war film covering the early years of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, based in particular on his 1930 book, My Early Life. The first part of the film covers Churchill's unhappy schooldays, up to the death of his father. The second half covers his service as a cavalry officer in India and the Sudan, during which he takes part in the cavalry charge at Omdurman, his experiences as a war correspondent in the Second Boer War, during which he is captured and escapes, and his election to Parliament at the age of 26.

Churchill was played by Simon Ward, who was relatively unknown at the time but was supported by a distinguished cast including Robert Shaw (as Lord Randolph Churchill), John Mills (as Lord Kitchener), Anthony Hopkins (as David Lloyd George) and Anne Bancroft as Churchill's mother Jennie. Other actors included Patrick Magee, Robert Hardy, Ian Holm, Edward Woodward and Jack Hawkins.

The film was written and produced by Carl Foreman and directed by Richard Attenborough. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction (Donald M. Ashton, Geoffrey Drake, John Graysmark, William Hutchinson, Peter James) and Best Costume Design.[4]


16 September 1897. Churchill is a junior officer in India determined to make a name for himself and to become a member of Parliament. As Sir Winston Churchill (voiced by Simon Ward) narrates, events shift back to his childhood. As a boy, Churchill is sent to a boarding school but is unhappy there. After a particularly vicious caning, Churchill is removed by his parents to Harrow School. At the entrance examination Churchill submits a blank paper; however the headmaster, James Welldon, sees the potential in Churchill and accepts him. One evening he recites a long poem of 1000 lines at a Harrow presentation. His nanny comes to listen but his parents do not, despite Churchill's express invitation. Churchill would later describe her as the only person who never let him down.

Meanwhile, Churchill's father Randolph is suffering terminal symptoms of syphilis. Doctors Roose and Buzzard visit Lady Churchill, informing her that her husband has an incurable disease and that he could die in five or six years, and they must never again have "physical relations".

One morning, Churchill comes down to breakfast but his behaviour infuriates his father. Randolph angrily sends his son away to his room. After a conversation with his wife, Randolph goes up to make up with his son. They play with his collection of tin soldiers and it is then that Churchill decides what it is he wants to do in the future: to go into the army. After three attempts, Churchill is finally accepted by Sandhurst but his father is not pleased because he finished seventh from the bottom of the class and is only eligible to enter the cavalry which costs an extra £200 a year for a horse. Randolph scolds Churchill and warns him to face up to his responsibilities at Sandhurst and that if he does not make something of himself by 21 he will no longer support him. Whilst scolding his son Randolph's illness is apparent as he makes a number of factual errors about him.

Towards the end of his life, with failing health, Randolph makes a faltering speech in Parliament, witnessed by both his wife and Winston. His death spells the end of Churchill's dream of entering Parliament at his side. Churchill graduates from Sandhurst finishing near the top of the cohort, he becomes a second lieutenant and eventually goes to India and the Sudan. He takes part in the cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman. Later, he goes to South Africa to work as a war correspondent during the Anglo-Boer War. While travelling by armoured train, Churchill and soldiers are ambushed by Boers. They try to retreat but crash into a barricade of rocks on the railway track. Churchill courageously organises the soldiers to push the derailed carriage off the track so the train can proceed with the wounded, but the others are captured by the Boers. Churchill escapes, getting help from mine manager Howard, hiding three nights in the mine then riding a goods train into British controlled territory. He returns to England a hero, stands for the parliamentary seat of Oldham and wins, becoming an MP in a Conservative majority Parliament. With the encouragement of opposition Liberal MP Lloyd George, to the dismay of his mother and annoyance of senior Conservatives, he takes up the campaign of his father to limit spending on the military.

The film ends with Sir Winston Churchill narrating events that follow including his marriage to Clementine Hozier seven years later. Newsreel footage shows Churchill appearing on the balcony with the Royal family on VE Day, May 1945.



Carl Foreman was invited to meet Winston Churchill after he had seen and enjoyed Foreman's 1961 production of The Guns of Navarone. At their meeting Churchill suggested that his book My Early Life would make an excellent film.[5]

In 1967 Foreman announced James Fox would play Churchill.[6]

Foreman was impressed by Richard Attenborough's Oh! What a Lovely War and at first wanted him to both direct and play Lord Randolph Churchill; Attenborough declined the latter offer.[citation needed]

The film was made in Morocco and the United Kingdom, with several scenes shot at Penwyllt and Coelbren, Powys, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, and the scene where Churchill learnt to ride at the Cavalry Riding School building at Beaumont Barracks in Aldershot.[citation needed]


Box office[edit]

The film was one of the most popular films in 1972 at the British box office.[7]

The film's U.S. premiere was held at the MacArthur Theatre in Washington, D.C., attended by Ward, members of the British embassy and as well as invited guests from the area, including the symphonic band from Winston Churchill High School in nearby Potomac, Maryland, conducted by Ronald Shurie. The film was premiered in the UK with Susan Hampshire and the youngest Winston of the cast on stage at the time. The band of the Royal Hussars (PWO) played at the screening.

Home media release[edit]

As of July 2009, the longest edition available on DVD was Young Winston: Special Edition at 146 minutes, cut from the original U.S. theatrical release which was 157 minutes. VHS tapes cut the film to just 124 minutes. The "Signature Series" edition, released by Sony Entertainment in Australia 2009 (147 minutes) opens with nearly four minutes of black screen accompanied by a medley of English tunes; an "intermission" of three minutes' black screen separates the two sections. The fully unabridged version was released on Blu-ray by British distributor Powerhouse Films in October 2019.


  1. ^ IMDb credits
  2. ^ "Young Winston (1972)". BBFC. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  3. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  4. ^ "NY Times: Young Winston". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2010. Archived from the original on 23 April 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  5. ^ Young Winston promotional booklet
  6. ^ James Fox to Play Young Churchill Florabel Muir:. The Washington Post and Times-Herald 14 Aug 1967: D11.
  7. ^ Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780748654260.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]