Young Winston (1972): Biopic from Attenborough of the Young Churchill, Starring Simon Ward

Columbia (Open Road Films Production)

A decade before he directed the Oscar-winning bio “Gandhi,” Richard Attenborough (also known as an actor) helmed “Young Winston,” a rather stiff and decorous historical drama about the early life of British politician Winston Churchill (played by Simon Ward).

The movie is heavily narrated by both the young and the mature Winston in detailing the crucial episodes in the politician’s life, his childhood years, his time as a war correspondent in Africa. The saga end with Winston’s first election to Parliament at the young age of 26.

Unfolding at a deliberate pace and taking it time (running time is 145 minutes), the scenario is by the blacklisted American Carl Foreman (who lived in exile in London), based on Winston Churchill’s memoirs: “My Early Life: A Loving Commission,” which some historians consider to be too subjective, biased, and even self-serving.

Eve so, done in the appealing but stately masterpiece Theater style, we get a glimpse at his childhood and family life (his mother Lady Jennie Churchill is played by Anne Bancroft), achievements and failures at school,  adventures in the Sudan and the Boer Wars.

There are some good battle scenes, which alternate with a largely dialogue-driven and interior tale. This film marked the feature directorial debut of Richard Attenborough, who perhaps shows too much taste and discretion in relating the episodic narrative.

Three actors, all good, play Churchill at different phases of his life: Russell Lewis as Winston the child, Michael Anderson as the reluctant schoolboy, and Simon Ward as the dashing officer, journalist, and then brilliant politician.

All the who’s who in the British theater is in the film (see below), and though most have small (or cameo) roles, Robert Shaw is particularly impressive as Lord Randolph Winston.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Original Story and Screenplay: Carl Foreman

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Don Ashton, Geoffrey Drake, John Graysmark, William Hutchinson, Peter James

Costume Design: Anthony Mendelson

Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:

The Story and Screenplay Oscar went to Jeremy Larner for “The Candidate,” starring Robert Redford.

The musical “Cabaret” won the Art Direction Oscar, and Anthony Powell received the Costume Oscar for George Cukor’s “Travels with My Aunt,” featuring Maggie Smith in the lead.


Produced by Carl Foreman

Director: Richard Attenborough

Screenplay (Adapted): Carl Foreman

Running time: 145 Minutes