Young Winston

Young Winston is a 1972 British film covering the early years of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, based in particular on his book, My Early Life: A Roving Commission. The first part of the film covers Churchill's unhappy schooldays, up to the death of his father. The second half covers his service as a cavalry officer in India and the Sudan, during which he takes part in the cavalry charge at Omdurman, his experiences as a war correspondent in the Second Boer War, during which he is captured and escapes, and his election to Parliament at the age of 26.

Young Winston
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Attenborough
Produced byCarl Foreman
Written byCarl Foreman
StarringSimon Ward
Robert Shaw
Anne Bancroft
Anthony Hopkins
John Mills
Music byAlfred Ralston (includes original music and his arrangements of works by Edward Elgar)[1]
CinematographyGerry Turpin
Edited byKevin Connor
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
28 July 1972 (UK)
10 October 1972 (US)
Running time
157 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$2,150,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[2]

Churchill was played by Simon Ward, who was relatively unknown at the time but was supported by a distinguished cast including Robert Shaw (as Lord Randolph Churchill), John Mills (as Lord Kitchener), Anthony Hopkins (as David Lloyd George) and Anne Bancroft as Churchill's mother Jennie. Other actors included Patrick Magee, Robert Hardy, Ian Holm, Edward Woodward and Jack Hawkins.

The film was written and produced by Carl Foreman and directed by Richard Attenborough. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction (Donald M. Ashton, Geoffrey Drake, John Graysmark, William Hutchinson, Peter James) and Best Costume Design.[3]


16 September 1897. Churchill is a junior officer in India determined to make a name for himself and to become a member of Parliament. As Sir Winston Churchill (voiced by Simon Ward) narrates, events shift back to his childhood. As a boy, Churchill is sent to a boarding school but is unhappy there. Due to excessive whippings, Churchill is removed from there and sent to another school, Harrow School. Churchill writes nothing down on the exam paper however the headmaster, James Welldon sees the potential in Churchill and accepts him. One evening he recites a long poem of 1000 lines in Harrow. His nanny comes down to listen but his parents do not despite Churchill sending them a letter to.

Meanwhile, Churchill's father Randolph contracts a venereal disease. Dr Roose and Dr Buzzard visit Jennie and tell her that her husband has an incurable disease and that he could die in five or six years.

One morning, Churchill comes down to breakfast but his behaviour infuriates his father. Randolph bitterly sends his son away to his room. After a conversation with his wife, Randolph goes up to make up with his son. They play with his collection of soldiers and it is there that Churchill decides what it is he wants to do in the future: to go into the army. After three attempts, Churchill is finally accepted by Sandhurst but his father is not pleased because he finished seventh from the bottom of the class. Randolph scolds Churchill and warns him to face up to his responsibilities at Sandhurst.

Later, Randolph dies thus spelling the end of Churchill's dreams of entering Parliament at his side. Churchill graduates from Sandhurst, becomes a second lieutenant and eventually goes to India and the Sudan. He takes part in the calvary charge at the Battle of Omdurman. Later, he goes to South Africa to work as a war correspondent. As he travels by train, he and the soldiers are ambushed by Boers. They try to move away as far as they can but crash into a pile of rocks on the railway track. Churchill courageously organises the soldiers to push one of the damaged cars so that the train can proceed but gets captured by the Boers. Determined to escape, Churchill eventually seeks help from a man called Mr Howard to get over the border. After three nights in a mine, Churchill gets on a train going into British controlled territory and returns to England a hero. At the same time he wins the Oldham election.

The film ends with Sir Winston Churchill narrating events that follow including his marriage to Clementine Hozier seven years later. Newsreel footage shows Churchill appearing on the balcony with the Royal family on VE day, May 1945.



Carl Foreman was invited to meet Winston Churchill after he had seen and enjoyed Foreman's 1961 production of The Guns of Navarone. At their meeting Churchill suggested that his book My Early Life would make an excellent film.[4]

In 1967 Foreman announced James Fox would play Churchill.[5]

Foreman was impressed by Richard Attenborough's Oh! What a Lovely War and at first wanted him to both direct and play Lord Randolph Churchill; Attenborough declined the latter offer.

The film was made in Morocco and the United Kingdom, with several scenes shot at Penwyllt and Coelbren, Powys, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, and the scene where Churchill learnt to ride at the Cavalry Riding School building at Beaumont Barracks in Aldershot.


Box office

The film was one of the most popular films in 1972 at the British box office.[6]

Release on VHS and DVD

As of July 2009, the longest edition available on DVD is Young Winston: Special Edition at 146 minutes, cut from the original U.S. theatrical release which was 157 minutes. VHS tapes cut the film to just 124 minutes. The fully unabridged version is currently unavailable on DVD.


  1. IMDb credits
  2. "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  3. "NY Times: Young Winston". NY Times. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  4. Young Winston promotional booklet
  5. James Fox to Play Young Churchill Florabel Muir:. The Washington Post, Times Herald 14 Aug 1967: D11.
  6. Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270.

Further reading

  • Lough, David (2015). No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money. New York: Picador. ISBN 978-1-78408-181-2.
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