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Review: Cromwell (1970) with Timothy Dalton in a supporting role

By: Eoghan Lyng
Cromwell (1970) Timothy Dalton review recension
Depending on your definition of the man, Oliver Cromwell was either the liberator of the aspiring classes or the man who plunged the Irish citizens into the deluge of their own killing fields. Wisely, this film focuses on the former point, unveiling an impasto coloured by greed, compassion, and moments of shaded self-doubt. Dramas- as it more drama than historical drama- do not come better, as the exceptional ensemble pool their talents to demonstrate the searching of a falling England with the maximal strains of their enviable abilities.

Timothy Dalton, the Welsh born thespian who had found nineteen seventies Bond too seasoned for his young self, accepted the part of Prince Rupert of The Rhine. Rather than battle his way through quips, lingerie and Walther PPK's, Dalton instead accepted a script that queried the necessity, the validity, and the propensity to divide people among classes. His was a performance that guested across from Richard Harris, channelling the voices that still speak on the opposing sides of the monarchy's existence. More than that, it demonstrated how expertly Dalton-still only in his twenties-could hold himself in a battalion of stalwarts.

Official trailer for the 1970 film Cromwell from Columbia Pictures

Gripping to his venerable, veritable existence, the Prince finds himself the slavish victim to the imperious, impatient King Charles (an excellent Alec Guinness). Asked to opine his failures, Rupert finds his failings, feelings, and fixtures less forgiving of a king than God. Speaking to the man whom he swore to defend, Rupert creates bites out of boasts unbecoming of a royal man. His is the actions of a pawn, powerless to defend his king, while a threat greater than any Queen piece comes marching to dethrone these men.

Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert of the Rhine in Cromwell
Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert of the Rhine in the 1970 film Cromwell directed by Ken Hughes.

Beneath these imperial trappings, comes two men leaving inhumanity to face humanity. Across from them marches Oliver Cromwell, a bastion of freedom, peace and equality, determined to liberate England from the elevated. Harris, a real-life Irish Republican, gives an oddly compassionate performance to a man few in his native Limerick would have toasted. And yet, Harris could find great solace in the man. channelling an emotionally sophisticated portrayal of a warrior searching for a steadfast, singular purpose. Harris, a bastion of story, delivers the most assured performance of his illustrative career, striking a real-life friendship with Dalton in the process. And yet the two men find themselves on opposing fields in the film, as the garrulous Cromwell fights against the monarchy, while the insolent Prince Rupert does everything to fight in the name of King, God, and country.

Cromwell (1970) remains one of Ken Hughes' lushest, most detailed works. Every scene is impeccably cast and constructed, capturing a Catholic Kingdom divided by its commitment to uphold pride, beauty and morals. Hughes, who had worked with Albert R. Broccoli on the explosive Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang chugs along with showy-even flamboyant-passages of whimsy. More than that, the tone, timbre and tempo of the film changes from jaunty to jaundiced in seconds. Flamboyant, the costumes parade the set pieces, showy and supercilious they hang on the men's towering shoulders. Cromwell is evidence of a time when the 'Historical Drama' was (unforgivable pun) king, capturing a luminosity rarely felt in the more modern 'Period Pieces' of the twenty first century ilk.

The clothes, settings and dialogue suits Dalton - an actor who soon embraced the exacting challenges of the theatre for the rest of the decade. Caught in the confines of youth, Dalton's eagerness to extract truth, meaning and subtext from a script paid dividends on the laudatory, London stages. By the time he'd come to star in The Living Daylights, he could expertly capture the catholic out of Michael G.Wilson's customary screenplay.

Editor's Note:
Among actors in other supporting roles are Bond alumni Charles Gray (Henderson in You Only Live Twice + Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever), Geoffrey Keen (Sir Frederick Gray in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker + Minister of Defence in For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights), and Douglas Wilmer (Fanning in Octopussy).



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