Cromwell Review

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Oliver Cromwell (Harris) rises to power, has Charles I (Guinness) executed and emerges victorious from a bloody civil war. All of this and not even a PG classification in sight. We smell an educational production…or is it a turkey?


“I was fighting for the liberty of common people when you, sir, were in knee-britches,” roars Oliver Cromwell (Richard Harris) at one of the many people he gets to shout at in the course of this long, shallow, sluggish historical movie. Harris is rumoured to have done permanent damage to his vocal chords, and certainly did permanent damage to his career. Before Cromwell, a personal project he nurtured for years, he was taken seriously as an actor and appeared in films for Lindsay Anderson, Sam Peckinpah and Federico Fellini. Afterwards, he was stuck with sequels to A Man Called Horse and other forgettable dodos such as Orca — Killer Whale.

Harris plays Cromwell on a note of sustained hysteria and is more suggestive of Captain Bligh in testy mood than the military genius who brought down an entrenched monarchy. Alec Guinness’ Charles I, with a fey Scots accent, comes off a bit better, but is still left stranded by the script.

When you were at school, they could have forced you to watch this, but you’re grown up now, so rent out Witchfinder General — a sleazy, nasty, truthful antidote to the clinical respectability of Cromwell—instead.