Cromwell (film)

Cromwell is a British 1970 historical drama film written and directed by Ken Hughes. It is based on the life of Oliver Cromwell, who rose to lead the Parliamentary forces during the later parts of the English Civil War and, as Lord Protector, ruled Great Britain and Ireland in the 1650s. It features an ensemble cast, led by Richard Harris as Cromwell and Alec Guinness as King Charles I, with Robert Morley as Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester and Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Theatrical poster by Howard Terpning
Directed byKen Hughes
Produced byIrving Allen
Written byKen Hughes
StarringRichard Harris
Alec Guinness
Robert Morley
Nigel Stock
Geoffrey Keen
Michael Jayston
Music byFrank Cordell
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byBill Lenny
Columbia Pictures
Irving Allen Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 16 July 1970 (1970-07-16)
Running time
139 minutes
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$8 million[1] or £9 million[2]

The film received two Oscar nominations during the 43rd Academy Awards held in 1971, winning one for Best Costume Design by Vittorio Nino Novarese, but losing another for Best Original Score, composed by Frank Cordell. It was also nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Award (BAFTA) in Costume Design and a Golden Globe for Best Original Score. At the 7th Moscow International Film Festival in 1971 it won the award for Best Actor (Richard Harris), and was nominated for the Golden Prize as Best Picture (Ken Hughes).[3] The film received negative reviews for historical inaccuracies, however, praise went to the acting, (particularly Harris and Guinness), the score and costume design.


Oliver Cromwell is a devout Puritan, a country squire, magistrate and former member of Parliament. King Charles I's policies, including the enclosing of common land for the use of wealthy landowners and the introduction of "Popish" and "Romish" rituals into the Church of England have become increasingly grating to many, including Cromwell. In fact Charles regards himself as a devout Anglican, permitting his French Queen to practise Roman Catholicism in private but forbidding her to bring up the young Prince of Wales in that faith. Cromwell plans to take his family to the New World, but, on the eve of their departure, he is persuaded by his friends to stay and resume a role in politics.

Charles has unenthusiastically summoned Parliament for the first time in twelve years, as he needs money to fight wars against both the Scots and the Irish. Although to appease the Commons he reluctantly agrees to execute his hated adviser the Earl of Strafford, the Parliament of England will still not grant him his requests unless he agrees to reforms that could lead to a constitutional monarchy. Committed to the divine right of kings, and under pressure from his queen to stand firm, Charles refuses. When he attempts to arrest five members of Parliament (in reality Cromwell was not one of them), war breaks out in England itself, Parliament against the king, both sides convinced that God is on their side.

When the Parliamentary forces in which Cromwell is a cavalry officer proved ineffective, he, along with Sir Thomas Fairfax, sets up the New Model Army and soon turns the tide against the king. The army's discipline, training and numbers secure victory and Cromwell's cavalry proves to be the deciding factor. With his army defeated, Charles goes so far as to call on help from Catholic nations, which disgusts his Protestant supporters. He is finally defeated but, a brave man in his own way, he still refuses to give in to the demands of Cromwell and his associates for a system of government in which Parliament will have as much say in the running of the country as the king.

Cromwell—who has had to maintain discipline in the highly politicised New Model Army by hanging a ringleader of an incipient mutiny—later hears from Sir Edward Hyde, the king's once-loyal adviser, that Charles has secretly been raising a Catholic army to resume the war against Parliament. He and his supporters thus have Charles put on trial for treason. Charles, found guilty and sentenced to death, faces execution bravely and even his most ardent critics are moved by his dignity and the fact that he has forgiven his captors. There is little celebration or satisfaction over his death, even on Cromwell's part.

However, Parliament soon proves itself just as useless in governing the country and, like the late king, Cromwell is forced to undertake a coup d'etat. But where Charles failed, Cromwell succeeds: his troops remove the MPs from the House of Commons, leaving Cromwell sitting symbolically alone in the Chamber as virtual dictator where he outlines to the viewer his vision for The Protectorate.

The film ends with a voice-over stating that Cromwell served very successfully for five years as Lord Protector before Charles I's son, Charles II, returned as king of an England "never to be the same again".


Tony Caunter, George A. Cooper and Peter Bennett, three prominent English actors, were cut out of the film following production.

The final version of Cromwell at one stage was 180 minutes long, but it was cut down to 141 minutes, deleting a number of featured roles in the process including Felix Aylmer (in his final film) as an archbishop, and Bryan Pringle.


In 1960, Hughes read John Buchan's biography, Oliver Cromwell and more books before touring England and researching from historic sites to museums and archives.[4] Hughes originally wrote the script in 1961. Richard Harris liked it and wanted to star but financiers did not consider him a big enough star at the time to finance the film. They wanted Charlton Heston but Hughes did not think he was appropriate. He tried to get Richard Burton to read the script but Burton was not interested. Hughes almost succeeded in making the film in 1968 but finance fell through at the last minute.[5] In 1969, London's Parliament Square was constructed at Shepperton Studios.[4]

Hughes eventually succeeded in raising the money from the US. The budget started at $6 million and blew out to $9 million. Most of the film was shot in England but the battle scenes were shot in Spain. The original cut went for three hours fifteen minutes but Hughes cut it down to two hours twenty four minutes.[5]

"I think it's the best thing I've ever done," said Hughes in 1970.[5]

Historical points

Although publicity for the film boasted that it had been made "after ten years of research", the film has been criticised for its historical inaccuracies. In its defence, George MacDonald Fraser has written, "Inevitably there are historical queries all the way through, as there are bound to be in a picture which takes its subject seriously and tries to cover so much in less than two and a half hours. The main thrust of Cromwell is true, it gets a great deal of history, and the sense of history, right."[6] Costumes, locations (e.g., the layout of the then-House of Commons[7]) and the appearance of actors were generally accurate but, as in many historical films as much as for practical film making purposes as anything else liberties were taken with the exact course of events.

Film Depiction Reality
It seriously exaggerates Cromwell's role in the events leading up to the outbreak of the English Civil War,[8] suggesting that he and Ireton were among the five members of Parliament whom the king tried to arrest when he entered the House of Commons and that Cromwell stayed in his seat and defied the king. The five members were John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, William Strode and Sir Arthur Hesilrige. Charles' occupation of the Speaker's chair, signalling his sovereignty over Parliament, and quip that "the birds have flown" are genuine, as is Speaker Lenthall's claim that he had neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak save those words which the Commons would let him use.[9]
It puts forward a stereotype of Roundheads being more plainly dressed than the Cavaliers. While there was some truth to it, on the battlefield the wearing of sashes and other identifying insignia were needed because on and off the battle field those from similar classes tended to dress in similar fashions.
Cromwell tells Charles I that the kind of government that he believes England should have is a democracy. Cromwell meets the king several times: before the English Civil War and after the king's arrest in Oxford. It is generally accepted that Cromwell made no such suggestion to the king. Cromwell and the defeated king met for the only time on the Isle of Wight, where the latter was kept under house arrest in 1648, when king, Parliament and army were trying in vain to hammer out a constitutional settlement. Furthermore, Cromwell disagreed with the demands for manhood suffrage made by the Army radicals in the late 1640s. It is debatable generally to what extent Cromwell believed in democracy, even as it was conceived of during his lifetime.
Both the Earl of Essex (Parliamentary commander-in-chief in the early years of the war) and the Earl of Manchester are shown as sitting in Cromwell's presence in the House of Commons. The Earl of Essex is shown to be present in the last scene when Cromwell dissolves Rump Parliament six years after the execution of Charles I. They would actually have sat in the House of Lords. The Earl of Essex died in 1646.
Cromwell is shown as a colonel at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. At the time he was only a Captain, becoming a colonel in 1643. He was not present at the battle, turning up with his troop too late in the evening.[10] He did write afterwards to John Hampden, "Your troopers are most of them old decayed servingmen and tapsters; and their [the Royalists] troopers are gentlemen's sons, younger sons and persons of quality...."
The famous soldiers' prayer: "O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me" is put into Cromwell's mouth. In fact, the prayer came from Sir Jacob Astley, a Royalist.[9]
The New Model Army is shown in black and gold hooped coats. The infantry wore a trademark red coat – the origins of the red coats worn by British infantry in subsequent centuries.
The Battle of Marston Moor of July 1644 goes unmentioned. It was the biggest battle in the Civil War and Cromwell – by this time Lieutenant-General (second-in-command) of the Eastern Association (the Earl of Manchester's Army) — played an important role in the parliamentary victory.[9]
At one point just before going into action Cromwell says "Was not Gideon outnumbered by the Amalekites?" It was the Midianites whom Gideon fought while outnumbered.[11]
The Battle of Naseby—June 1645—is 'reconstructed' with the New Model Army being represented as significantly outnumbered by the Royalists. Cromwell is in command. The New Model Army outnumbered the Royalist Army, part of whose cavalry was led by Prince Rupert. Sir Thomas Fairfax was in command of the Parliament's forces. It must be pointed out during the initial preparation stages, Cromwell did a forced march on his army to position his troops, and the Royalists reported that this unit of the army was smaller than the Royalist total. Indeed, during some of the pre-battle skirmishes it can be argued that some New Model Army units were heavily outnumbered before the main sections joined up with them.
Cromwell's son Oliver is depicted as having been killed during the Battle of Naseby in June 1645.

Towards the end of the film, the elder Oliver is seen at his son's gravestone which clearly shows the year of death as 1644.

The younger Oliver Cromwell died of smallpox during the spring of 1644 while in garrison at Newport Pagnell. However this was likely not an intentional change as several older biographies contend that Oliver was killed in a skirmish, in particular Thomas Carlyle, and it was the discovery of Richard's letters that historians learned that Oliver Jr died of smallpox. The only real deliberate fictionalization is that he was killed specifically during Naseby.[9]
Cromwell is named commander-in-chief of the Parliamentary forces, while Sir Thomas Fairfax is shown as Cromwell's subordinate, for instance during the battle of Naseby. In fact, Sir Thomas Fairfax was "Lord General" (commander-in-chief) of the New Model Army during the English Civil War; he commanded the Parliamentary forces at Naseby. Cromwell—one of the few politicians to retain a military command when the New Model was set up—was "Lieutenant-General", second-in-command, and commander of the cavalry. He commanded the Parliamentary right-wing cavalry at Naseby.[9]
Cromwell enters Oxford and personally arrests the king in the name of Parliament. At the end of the First Civil War the king surrendered to the Scottish army and was only handed over to the English Parliament some time later. He was then seized by New Model troops led by Cornet Joyce some time after that.[9]
John Pym is shown to be present in Parliament after the battle of Naseby. Later, he is reported dead in 1646. He died in 1643.
Cromwell and Fairfax are shown bringing troops into the House of Commons and declaring that Cromwell now has a majority.

The incident is strongly reminiscent of Pride's Purge. In 1648, troops under Colonel Thomas Pride refused entry to those MPs who were deemed unsuitable. Lieutenant-General Cromwell was away at the time and it is unclear how much he knew of the purge in advance. The MPs left after Pride's Purge were known as the Rump Parliament.

Charles is depicted as planning a second Civil War after his defeat, but the plot is discovered before it can begin. Charles is brought to trial merely for planning this strategy, not for carrying it out. In reality, this Second English Civil War was fought, and it was only after a second defeat that King Charles was put on trial.
Hyde is called 'Sir Edward Hyde' and addressed by the Queen as 'my lord' in scenes which take place in 1641. He, however, was not knighted until 1643, and ennobled by Charles II in 1661.
Sir Edward Hyde gives damning testimony against Charles at the king's trial. He in fact gave no evidence, and was not even in the country at the time.
Sir Thomas Fairfax is shown as present as a judge at the king's trial. In fact he refused to have anything to do with the trial.
Cromwell is the first one to sign Charles' death warrant after Fairfax refuses to. Cromwell is the third to sign after Bradshaw and Lord Grey of Groby.
Henry Ireton appears with a delegation of MPs to offer Cromwell the throne. By the time Cromwell was actually offered the crown—towards the end of his life in 1657—Ireton, his son-in-law, had been dead for nearly six years.
Cromwell dismisses the idea of becoming king instantly, laughing it off as absurd after what he fought for. Cromwell was immediately reluctant to accept the office of king, but took the offer very seriously as so many in Parliament thought it vital. He turned the offer down after several weeks of negotiations, mainly because the army was opposed to it.[12]
Near the end of the film, Cromwell tells the Rump Parliament that they have had six years to form a new government after the execution of Charles I. In truth, they had four years and this scene takes place after Cromwell is offered the crown, which in reality happened eight years after Charles' execution. However, there were already complaints of corruption during these four years and some complains from Parliamentarian members to Cromwell for help because of the corrupt government.
The film gives the impression that Cromwell spent those years on his farm and lands in Huntingdon. In fact he had been leading his campaign in Ireland and had fought the Battle of Worcester, subjects that go unmentioned in the film. It was before the latter campaign that Cromwell succeeded Fairfax as Lord General.[9]
Having dissolved the Rump Parliament, Cromwell throws the mace to the ground, crying 'Away with this bauble'. His actual exhortation was 'Take away that fool's bauble, the mace'.
Henrietta Maria, Charles' Roman Catholic wife, is portrayed as outright manipulative. Her role in the English Civil War, while significant, is hotly contested by historians and was likely not this blatant. The movie's portrayal was largely based on a popular book at the time of the movie's release and popular propaganda. In the film, Cromwell justifies his anti-Catholicism on the basis that Catholicism is incompatible with English Protestantism. Anti-Catholicism was not unusual in the power corridors of 17th century England, but the film greatly understates Cromwell’s vehemence on the issue (as evidenced by his policies towards Ireland).
In the film, Rump Parliament's dismissal is portrayed after Cromwell is granted the crown. The fact is that he dissolved Rump Parliament before becoming leader of the British Protectorate (the Commonwealth).
The enclosures appear early in the film as a source of Cromwell's discontent. Charles I was noted for being the most noteworthy anti-enclosure reformer, though he did do a version of the enclosures to raise money during his personal rule.[13] The enclosures began under Henry VII, with Henry VIII and Edward VI being the monarchs most associated with the policy. However, it was nowhere as severe and rapid a social change as during the period of Cromwell.


The film received generally unfavourable reception, with criticism to the historical inaccuracies, however praise was given for the performances of its two leads, production values and score.

Box Office

The film was one of the most popular movies in 1970 at the British box office.[14]

Awards and nominations

See also


  1. Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p443
  2. Making it Jordan, C. New Society; London Vol. 16, (Jul 2, 1970): 420.
  3. "7th Moscow International Film Festival (1971)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  4. Niemi, Robert (2013). Inspired by True Events: An Illustrated Guide to More Than 500 History-Based Films. p. 5. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  5. Cromwell knocked about a bit The Guardian 16 July 1970: 8.
  6. Fraser, George MacDonald (1988). The Hollywood History of the World. London: Michael Joseph Limited. p. 111. ISBN 0-7181-2997-0.
  7. 'House of Commons of England', not the much later 'House of Commons of Great Britain' 1707-1801
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 April 2009. Retrieved 2 April 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. Cromwell: Our Chief of Men by Antonia Fraser, 1989
  10. Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (2002), p. 176
  11. Book of Judges chapter 7
  12. Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (2002), pp. 650–2, 490, 660
  13. "". Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  14. Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 269.
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