Cromwell (film)

Cromwell (film)
Oliver Cromwell

poster by Howard Terpning
Directed by Ken Hughes
Produced by Irving Allen
Written by Ken Hughes
Starring Richard Harris
Alec Guinness
Robert Morley
Nigel Stock
Geoffrey Keen
Michael Jayston
Music by Frank Cordell
Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth
Editing by Bill Lenny
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) 26 October 1970 (US)
Running time 139 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Cromwell is a 1970 film, based on the life of Oliver Cromwell who led the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and, as Lord Protector, ruled Great Britain and Ireland in the 1650s. It features an all-star cast led by Richard Harris as Cromwell and Alec Guinness as King Charles I. There is also Robert Morley as Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester and Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert of the Rhine.



Oliver Cromwell is a devout, God-fearing country squire, magistrate and former member of Parliament. Parliament has not met in over a decade and as a result the policies of King Charles I have become increasingly unacceptable to many, including Cromwell. These have included the enclosing of common land for the use of wealthy landowners and the introduction of "Papist" rituals into the Church of England. 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 recalled Parliament for the first time in eleven years, as he needs money in order to fight wars against the Scots and the Irish. Although 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 prove ineffective, he sets up the New Model Army and soon turns the tide against the king. 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. 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.

The movie 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".


Actor Role
Richard Harris Oliver Cromwell
Alec Guinness King Charles I
Robert Morley The Earl of Manchester
Dorothy Tutin Queen Henrietta Maria
Frank Finlay John Carter
Timothy Dalton Prince Rupert
Patrick Wymark The Earl of Strafford
Patrick Magee Hugh Peters
Nigel Stock Sir Edward Hyde
Charles Gray The Earl of Essex
Michael Jayston Henry Ireton
Douglas Wilmer Sir Thomas Fairfax
Geoffrey Keen John Pym
Anthony May Richard Cromwell
Stratford Johns President Bradshaw
Ian McCulloch John Hampden
Patrick O'Connell John Lilburne
Jack Gwillim General Byron
Charles I as painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck; and portrayed by Alec Guinness.
Oliver Cromwell as painted "warts and all" by Peter Lely (aka Pieter van der Faes); and portrayed by Richard Harris.
Sir Edward Hyde, later 1st Earl of Clarendon, in a print of the time; and portrayed by Nigel Stock.
Sir Thomas Fairfax in a print of the time; and portrayed by Douglas Wilmer.

Historical points

Although publicity for the movie boasted that it had been made "after ten years' research", it has been criticised for its historical inaccuracies. Costumes, locations (e.g., the layout of the then-House of Commons) and the appearance of actors were generally accurate but, as in many historical films, liberties were taken with the exact course of events.

The film has been criticised[1] for making Cromwell appear to be too heroic, and for leaving out all mention of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland,[1] though the actor who played him, Richard Harris, was himself Irish.

Film Depiction Reality
It seriously exaggerates Cromwell's role in the events leading up to the outbreak of the English Civil War.[1] Neither he nor Ireton was among the five members of Parliament whom the king tried to arrest when he entered the House of Commons. 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 about "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.[2]
It puts forward a dated and inaccurate stereotype of Roundheads being more plainly dressed than the Cavaliers. In reality they dressed the same. Cromwell was himself a dedicated Puritan.
Cromwell tells Charles I that the kind of government that he believes England should have is a democracy. 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.[citation needed] Furthermore, Cromwell disagreed with the demands for manhood suffrage made by the Army radicals in the late 1640s.
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 the House of Commons They would actually have sat in the House of Lords.
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.[3]
The famous soldiers' prayer: "O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not forget me" is put into Cromwell's mouth. In fact, the prayer came from Sir Jacob Astley, a Royalist.[2]
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.[2]
At one point just before going into action Cromwell says "And was Gideon not outnumbered when he fought the Amalekites?" It was the Midianites whom Gideon fought while outnumbered.[4]
The Battle of Naseby—June 1645—is 'reconstructed' with the New Model Army being represented as significantly outnumbered by the Royalists. The New Model Army outnumbered the Royalist Army, part of whose cavalry was led by Prince Rupert.
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.[2]
Cromwell is named commander-in-chief of the Parliamentary forces, while Sir Thomas Fairfax is shown as Cromwell's subordinate. In fact, Sir Thomas Fairfax was "Lord General" (commander-in-chief) of the New Model Army during the English Civil War. 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.[2]
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.[2]
John Pym is pronounced dead in 1646 He died in 1643
Cromwell is shown bringing troops into the House of Commons and declaring that he 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 few MPs left after "Pride's Purge" were known as "the Rump".

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.
Sir Edward Hyde gives damning testimony against Charles at the king's trial. Hyde turned against the king, but did not actively testify at the trial.
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.[5]
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.
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 for these campaigns that Cromwell succeeded Fairfax as Lord General.[2]
Having dissolved the Rump Parliament, Cromwell throws the mace to the ground, crying 'Away with this bauble'. The statement he actually made was 'Take away that fool's bauble, the mace'.


  • 1971: Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Vittorio Nino Novarese)


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Cromwell: Our Chief of Men by Antonia Fraser, 1989
  3. ^ Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (2002), p. 176
  4. ^ Book of Judges chapter 7
  5. ^ Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (2002), pp. 650-2, 490, 660

External links

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