12 July 2006 | bkoganbing
This Country Will Be Well Governed If I Have To Do It Myself
Cromwell was an ambitious undertaking for Director Ken Hughes and his two stars Richard Harris and Alec Guinness. He managed to capture the spirit of that part of the 17th century even if he didn't get all his facts right.
Like the many tellings of the story of Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart which have them in climatic meeting, we have Oliver Cromwell and Mary Stuart's grandson, Charles I meeting not once, but several times. They too never met, but the story demands it.
In point of fact Oliver Cromwell was a minor figure in the war between the Crown and Parliament until the Parliamentary Army lost a series of battles and looked like they were going down for the count. It was at that point that Cromwell emerged as a military leader. It turned out that this previously obscure member of Parliament who had no previous military training had a natural genius for warmaking. He turned that army around and eventually Parliament won.
Cromwell could have been George Washington at this point and retired to the farm, but he used his prestige and not as reluctantly as this film shows to make himself the military dictator of Great Britain with the title of Lord Protector.
The experience of Cromwell's reign scarred the English body politic for generations and to a large degree the American one as well. The whole struggle over which interpretation of Christianity would hold sway was something all of the ancestors of the American founding fathers had to deal with. That's when the idea came to them to have no established religion in America. Cromwell's large standing Ironsides Army enforcing his dictatorship led to a positive mania about no standing armies, no quartering of troops and even the right to bear arms. All this because of a collective memory of the Lord Protector.
Richard Harris is a lean and mean Cromwell who keeps saying he just wants to go back to the farm, but somehow winds up grabbing for more power. Alec Guinness is the perfect conception of that luckless monarch Charles I. Please note the relationship between Guinness and Queen Henrietta Marie played by Dorothy Tutin. Two things should be remembered there. First Henrietta Marie is the sister of Louis XIV of France, a monarch with considerable more power than Charles has. Note how Tutin is constantly berating Guinness for not standing up to the Parliament. He does and see where it gets him. Secondly Charles I is one of the very few English monarchs with no royal paramours. He and the Queen were actually in love and he knew her advice was from the heart if it proved disastrous.
Please note a couple of other good performances, Timothy Dalton as Prince Ruppert of the Rhine, Charles's nephew from Germany who actually was a whole lot smarter than he's shown here. And Robert Morley as the Earl of Manchester, one of Cromwell's rivals in the Parliamentary camp.
Oliver Cromwell died in 1558 quite suddenly and within two years the Stuart Monarchy was restored under Charles II, oldest son of Charles I and Henrietta Marie. The collapse of the Protectorate is a subject that English historians have some raging debates over. It was very much like the collapse of the Soviet Union in our time. The collapse of the Protectorate and the Restoration of the Stuarts was filmed in Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s The Exile and really needs an up to date treatment.
Cromwell as a film is magnificently photographed and directed and actually won an Oscar for costume design. But the flaws in the story line are too many and don't use this film as Cliff's notes kids.