Young Winston
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Attenborough
Written byCarl Foreman
Produced byCarl Foreman
StarringSimon Ward
Robert Shaw
Anne Bancroft
Anthony Hopkins
John Mills
CinematographyGerry Turpin
Edited byKevin Connor
Music byAlfred Ralston (includes original music and his arrangements of works by Edward Elgar)[1]
Distributed byColumbia Pictures (through Columbia-Warner Distributors[2])
Release date
  • 28 July 1972 (1972-07-28)
Running time
157 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$2,150,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[3]

Young Winston is a 1972 British epic biographical adventure drama war film covering the early years of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, based in particular on his 1930 book, My Early Life. 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.

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.[4]

Young Winston was released to cinemas on July 28, 1972.


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 the older Churchill (voiced by Simon Ward) narrates, events shift back to his childhood. As a boy, Churchill is sent to a preparatory boarding school but is unhappy there and is removed by his parents after a particularly vicious caning by the sadistic headmaster. Later, at the entrance examination to Harrow School, Churchill submits a blank paper; however the headmaster, James Welldon, sees Churchill's potential and accepts him. One evening he recites a long poem of 1000 lines at a Harrow presentation. His nanny comes to listen but his parents do not, despite Churchill's express invitation. Churchill would later describe her as the only person who never let him down.

Meanwhile, Churchill's father Lord Randolph destroys his career by resigning as Chancellor of the Exchequer; George Buckle, editor of The Times, refuses to support his position. Doctors Roose and Buzzard inform Lady Randolph that her husband has an incurable disease, will probably die in five or six years, and that they must never again have "physical relations".[5]

One morning, Churchill comes down to breakfast but his behaviour infuriates his father. Lord Randolph angrily sends his son up to his room, but after a conversation with his wife he goes to make up with his son, who is playing with his large collection of tin soldiers. Churchill eagerly accepts his father's suggestion that he go into the army; his father later admits to his mother that he feels Winston lacks the brains for university or a career as a barrister. 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 and is only eligible to enter the cavalry which costs an extra £200 a year for a horse. Lord Randolph - clearly ill and making a number of factual errors about his son - scolds Churchill and warns him to face up to his responsibilities at Sandhurst and that if he does not make something of himself by 21 he will no longer support him.

Still only in his mid forties, Lord Randolph, once a brilliant debater, makes an incoherent speech in Parliament, witnessed by both his wife and Winston. His death spells the end of Churchill's dream of entering Parliament at his side. Churchill graduates from Sandhurst near the top of the class, he becomes a second lieutenant and eventually goes to India and then takes part in the cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan. Later, he goes to South Africa to work as a war correspondent during the Anglo-Boer War. While travelling by armoured train, Churchill and soldiers are ambushed by Boers. They try to retreat but crash into a barricade of rocks on the railway track. Churchill courageously organises the soldiers to push the derailed carriage off the track so the train can proceed with the wounded, but the others are captured by the Boers. Churchill escapes, getting help from mine manager Howard, hiding three nights in the mine then riding a goods train into neutral Portuguese territory. He returns to England a hero, stands for the parliamentary seat of Oldham and wins, becoming an MP in a Conservative majority Parliament. With the encouragement of opposition Liberal MP Lloyd George, to the dismay of his mother and annoyance of senior Conservatives, he takes up his father's campaign to limit spending on the military.

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.



This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (March 2018)

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.[7]

In 1967 Foreman announced James Fox would play Churchill.[8]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


Box office

The film was one of the most popular films in 1972 at the British box office.[9] Ward was nominated for the Most Promising Male Newcomer award at the Golden Globe Awards in January 1973.

The film's U.S. premiere was held at the MacArthur Theatre in Washington, D.C., attended by Ward, members of the British embassy and as well as invited guests from the area, including the symphonic band from Winston Churchill High School in nearby Potomac, Maryland, conducted by Ronald Shurie. The film was premiered in the UK with Susan Hampshire and the youngest Winston of the cast on stage at the time. The band of the Royal Hussars (PWO) played at the screening.

Critical reception

Young Winston received mixed reviews upon its release. On Rotten Tomatoes, it was reported that 50% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 10 reviews, with an average score of 5/10.


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Original Screenplay Carl Foreman Nominated [10]
Best Art Direction Art Direction: Donald M. Ashton, Geoffrey Drake, John Graysmark, and William Hutchinson;
Set Decoration: Peter James
Best Costume Design Anthony Mendleson Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Robert Shaw Nominated [11]
Best Actress in a Leading Role Anne Bancroft Nominated
Best Art Direction Geoffrey Drake and Donald M. Ashton Nominated
Best Costume Design Anthony Mendleson Won
Anthony Asquith Memorial Award Alfred Ralston Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Simon Ward Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best English-Language Foreign Film Won [12]
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Simon Ward Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Supporting Actor Robert Shaw Runner-up [13]
Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards Best British Screenplay Carl Foreman Won [14]

Home media release

As of July 2009, the longest edition available on DVD was 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 "Signature Series" edition, released by Sony Entertainment in Australia 2009 (147 minutes) opens with nearly four minutes of black screen accompanied by a medley of English tunes; an "intermission" of three minutes' black screen separates the two sections. The fully unabridged version was released on Blu-ray by British distributor Powerhouse Films in October 2019.


  1. ^ IMDb credits
  2. ^ "Young Winston (1972)". BBFC. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  3. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  4. ^ "NY Times: Young Winston". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2010. Archived from the original on 23 April 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  5. ^ believed at the time, and implied in the film, to be syphilis, although many of Lord Randolph's modern biographers believe he may have had a brain tumour
  6. ^ The film inaccurately portrays Chamberlain as a close colleague of Salisbury and his nephew Arthur Balfour in the early 1880s, whilst the Conservatives were in opposition. He was in fact President of the Board of Trade in Gladstone's Liberal Cabinet, and a bitter critic of Salisbury, at the time. In 1895, after Lord Randolph's death, Chamberlain's small Liberal Unionist Party entered into coalition with the Conservatives.
  7. ^ Young Winston promotional booklet
  8. ^ James Fox to Play Young Churchill Florabel Muir:. The Washington Post and Times-Herald 14 Aug 1967: D11.
  9. ^ Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780748654260.
  10. ^ "The 45th Academy Awards (1973) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on 17 July 2014. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  11. ^ "BAFTA Awards (1973)". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  12. ^ "Young Winston – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  13. ^ "1972 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  14. ^ "Writers' Guild Awards 1972". Writers' Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 3 June 2021.

Further reading