Cromwell Movie Review

October 9, 2020

Cromwell is a superb theatrical work which appropriately aims to reflect a transcendental moment in English history. The production quality, from wardrobe to set design, stupendously reminds the audience of a bygone era of overwhelming artistry in cinema. And rightly so, the efforts in staging the story of the England’s Civil War cannot help but be appreciated constantly in the film as it unfolds. It is further with the exceptional acting performances which makes this film a classic reminder of a successful attempt to authentically reflect not simply history but nature. The film then definitively succeeds in achieving an imitation of nature, as Artistotle claimed art’s goal to be.


The film invites us into the ripeness of England feudalism at a time when there is national crisis in the mid 17th century. Oliver Cromwell is set to leave to America to escape the King and his supporters who he believes are corrupt, but instead is drawn into Parliament to attempt to move the nation to higher ground. And it is at this juncture which world history was recorded. For the question of lordship and tradition come immediately into question as the Puritanical fervor for a moral nation under God gathers momentum.


To witness the authentically regimented hierarchy of the society is one of the inner charms of watching the film. We are treated to viewing a society which is well structured in coordinating with the highest power in the land – the King – and those who find him favors. It is this tendency which foments discontent toward the point of outright war.


Alec Guiness plays King Charles I extraordinarily well. Indeed, the film does a masterful job of depicting a monarch who tries in honesty to keep hold of his Kingdom as the Parliament makes motions to eliminate his sovereign power. His respect for civility is unsurpassed, despite his anxious covetous attempts. And it is here, in the witness of true civilizing power, which is monumental for a film to beholden.


The men in all facets of the film demonstrate passionate disagreement but are ever so resolved to cease the dispute and return to peace – truly the accords of higher civilization. And that is perhaps the most perplexing aspect. That, despite Cromwell’s passionate biblical frenzy to make his name knowable before the Lord, Parliament is eager to return to the old ways of instituting King Charles I on the throne. Perhaps there is an element of conservatism, of men who do not seek the role of monarch but appreciate men who do. And that, if there has been nothing wrong with House Stuart for centuries, there would not be anything wrong now.


And it is at this point where the film shows Cromwell, played impeccably by Richard Harris, as an extraordinary historical figure. He is one who recognizes weakness in men at all orders of society and is simply resolved to institute a higher moral order within his nationhood. He admits as much to King Charles I – that he desires England to be the noblest nation of Christendom. It isn’t until the King’s desperation to maintain his dignity at all costs, forcing Parliament to move to trial and execution, do we see the gentlemen come to terms with the consequences of their victory over the monarch.


And this is where the reluctance of the landed classes to terminate sovereign rule realizes the need for a Cromwell to move the nation. No doubt these men do not wish to disrupt and dismantle their brotherhood; but the King’s infatuation with his lawful power which includes conspiring with foreign armies and powers leads to difficult decisions. Decisions which few men have the courage to make. Yet it is with these few men who genuinely move the world when there is need for action, until a movement is formed.


Cromwell is beyond a historical piece. It is a magnificent effort at extending the Western fine arts tradition into cinema. Of breathing life into the parchment records of world history.


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