The Young Mr. Pitt

The Young Mr. Pitt is a 1942 British biographical film of the life of William Pitt the Younger and in particular his struggle against revolutionary France and Napoleon. It was directed by Carol Reed and stars Robert Donat, Robert Morley, Phyllis Calvert and John Mills.[1] Made in black-and-white, it was produced by Edward Black and Maurice Ostrer for the British subsidiary of 20th Century Fox.

The Young Mr. Pitt
A scene from the film
Directed byCarol Reed
Written byFrank Launder
Sidney Gilliat
Viscount Castlerosse (additional dialogue and original novel)
StarringRobert Donat
Robert Morley
Phyllis Calvert
John Mills
Music byLouis Levy
CinematographyFreddie Young
Edited byR.E. Dearing
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 21 September 1942 (1942-09-21)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

It was filmed as the Second World War was raging. Similar parallels with the struggle against Hitler's Germany were implied in That Hamilton Woman (aka Lady Hamilton, 1941), made by Alexander Korda in the United States[2] with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in the leads.


In 1770, William Pitt the Elder gives a speech in Parliament decrying the unfair treatment of the colonists in the American colonies, and then advises his second son, a young man also named William Pitt, to avoid seeking fame through war.

Years later, King George the Third is delighted that the ministry of Charles James Fox and Lord North has fallen. However, there is no obvious replacement. To everyone's surprise, the King selects William Pitt to become the youngest Prime Minister that the United Kingdom has ever known at the age of 24, despite his opposition to the disastrous war against the American colonies and reputation as a reformer.

Pitt tries to gain Fox's support, but is rebuffed. He is ridiculed in Parliament, but despite having no majority, refuses to resign. He is even subject to a night ambush, but noted boxers Dan Mendoza and Gentleman Jackson help drive the assailants away. Reassured by the boxers' claims of strong support for him amongst the general public, Pitt calls an election on a platform of peace and prosperity, which gives him a majority. Over Fox's constant opposition, he then institutes reforms and strengthens the Royal Navy.

Intermittently, events in Napoleon's life are shown. Then the French Revolution erupts, and France sends forth her armies. When Holland is invaded, Britain becomes embroiled in the conflict. As the war drags on, Fox, the public and even Pitt's friend William Wilberforce demand that Pitt negotiate for peace. Meanwhile, Pitt discovers that he has neglected his personal finances and is now deeply in debt. Then, Napoleon seizes power in France. Certain that there can be no peace now, Pitt commits himself totally to the arduous struggle ahead, sacrificing even his love for Eleanor Eden.

He institutes a bold but risky strategy, going on the offensive in the Mediterranean, and chooses Horatio Nelson, over more senior admirals, to lead the naval squadron assigned the task. Napoleon sails from Toulon to invade Egypt while Nelson's blockading ships are scattered by a gale. Meanwhile, Pitt collapses from overwork and is warned by his doctor about his health. Nelson finds and destroys the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. The people cheer Pitt, but years of fighting go on, and when Napoleon writes to the King offering peace, Fox, public opinion and his health force Pitt to resign. He also receives an announcement of Eleanor Eden's impending wedding. A peace treaty is signed, giving Napoleon time to build up his armies and his fleet. He gathers his forces on the French coast facing England.

With the looming danger of invasion, the country once more turns to Pitt. Despite the warnings of his doctor, he becomes Prime Minister again. Even Fox offers to serve under him. The decisive British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar ends the danger.



Bosley Crowther of The New York Times felt "the nature of the historical period in which this film is set and the evident fidelity of the authors to the facts of Mr. Pitt's life conspire to prevent this picture from having a sharp dramatic impact."[4]


  1. "The Young Mr. Pitt (1942)". British Film Institute.
  2. Patricia Warren British Film Studios: An Illustrated History, London: B.T. Batsford, 2001, pp. 33, 145
  3. In his first English-speaking role
  4. Bosley Crowther (11 March 1943). "' The Young Mr. Pitt,' a British Historical Drama, With Robert Donat in Title Role, Has Its Premiere at the Roxy". The New York Times.
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