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Film / Cromwell

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"Every man who wages war believes God is on his side; I'll warrant God should often wonder who is on his."
Oliver Cromwell

Cromwell is a 1970 British epic Period Piece about the English Civil War and the events that led up to it. Based on the life of Oliver Cromwell and his role in the war, it was directed by Ken Hughes, and starred Richard Harris as the title character and Alec Guinness as King Charles I. The cast also features Robert Morley as the Earl of Manchester, Dorothy Tutin as Queen Henrietta Maria, Frank Finlay as John Carter, Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Patrick Wymark as the Earl of Strafford, Patrick Magee as Hugh Peters, Nigel Stock as Sir Edward Hyde, Charles Gray as the Earl of Essex, and Michael Jayston as Henry Ireton.

Oliver Cromwell is a devout puritan, a country squire, a magistrate, and a former MP. He and many others are frustrated by the King's policies, such as his enclosing of common land for use by wealthy landowners and his introduction of rituals seen as "too Catholic" into the Church of England. While Cromwell plans to take his family to the New World colonies, his friends convince him to stay and make a return to politics. Needing to raise money for his wars in Scotland and Ireland, the King is forced to call Parliament for the first time in twelve years. However, Parliament refuses to grant him his requests unless he agrees to certain reforms that may lead to a constitutional monarchy. Convinced of the divine right of kings and encouraged by his Queen to stand firm, the King refuses. As the political and religious tension reaches a boiling point and coming to terms looks increasingly unlikely, the King attempts to arrest five members of Parliament. This incident causes a war to break out in England itself between Parliament and the King, both sides firmly believing that God is on their side.

One of the biggest British box office successes of 1970, the film received mixed critical reviews but was nominated for a number of awards, including Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Costume Design (winning the latter), a BAFTA for Costume Design, a Golden Globe for Best Original Score, and the Golden Prize for Best Picture at the Moscow International Film Festival (Harris won the Award for Best Actor for his performance as Cromwell).


  • Adapted Out:
    • Charles and Henrietta Maria had nine children, six of whom survived childhood. Of the six only Charles, Elizabeth, and Henry appear in the film.
    • Two of Rupert's brothers, Charles Louis and Maurice, were also involved in The English Civil War. Charles Louis was sent away early on because he sympathised with the Parliamentary forces, while Maurice was banished with Rupert after the surrender of Bristol.
  • Artistic License – History: Has its own page.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Just before the Battle of Naseby, Cromwell rhetorically asks "Was not Gideon outnumbered by the Amalekites?" It was the Midianites who Gideon fought while outnumbered.
  • Composite Character: Cromwell himself seems to have absorbed basically every major Parliamentary leader, from his mentor Thomas Fairfax to his mentees Henry Ireton and John Lilburne.
  • Dated History: One of Cromwell's sons, also named Oliver, is depicted as having been killed in battle. This was thought to be the case at the time the movie was made, but later on, rediscovered letters revealed that he had actually died of smallpox.
  • Deal with the Devil: With his own armies decimated and seemingly all hope lost, Henrietta Maria takes Charles into secret conference with a representative of the hated Catholic Church, who offers him legions of Catholic troops in exchange for religious concessions. Caught between his own Protestant values that would see this as a betrayal and the very real chance of losing his kingdom if he refuses, Charles is spared that choice when it's revealed his nephew has lost the last port under their control, meaning any deal he struck would've been All for Nothing anyway.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: While the film chooses to portray Charles's wife Henrietta Maria as a scheming Lady Macbeth, it also goes out of its way to make it clear that she and Charles do deeply love one another, and she is distraught before his death.
  • Everyone Has Standards: All of Charles I's vassals are horrified when the King asserts he is seeking aid and assistance from the Catholic Church to bolster their deteriorating military forces. They urge him now to sue for peace honorably rather than continue to fight a war dishonorably.
  • Evil Virtues: Manchester and the other aristocrats who eventually form the Rump are incompetent, corrupt, and classist bullies, but they do still lead Parliament's armies rather than cut lucrative deals with King Charles. And while Prince Rupert is an absolutist like his uncle and a brutal warrior, by the same token he's also a brave and fearless fighter who prefers death to dishonor.
  • Face Death with Dignity: King Charles I ultimately goes to his execution with solemn, kingly grace, is polite to his executioners, and even insists on a coat lest he shiver and be mistaken for a coward. The parliamentarians are, while not moved, at least seemingly impressed enough not to celebrate his death.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Prince Rupert, for his total failure in holding the important port city of Bristol in King Charles's name, is banished from England. This devastates Rupert, who begs the king (his own uncle) to kill him so he can retain some honor, something the label exile certainly did not carry. Charles refuses and sends him to his chambers under guard until his deportation.
  • Foil: Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I are shown to be very alike: Happily Married, devoutly Protestant family men who care very deeply about England and its future. But their differences, namely that King Charles is a cool-headed and dignified believer in his own divine right and Cromwell a hot-head who believes in some form of popular sovereignty, necessarily bring them into conflict, where another key difference makes itself known: King Charles is ultimately no great general and struggles to raise men to his standard, while Cromwell is a true military genius who builds a juggarnaut of a modern army. In the end, Cromwell's revolution costs him the lives of his children in the course of putting himself into power as a king in all but name and setting the foundations for modern British democracy, while Charles is able to save his own offspring on his way to the chopping block where both he and royalist power in England are each dealt a fatal blow.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: The movie begins with Royal troops storming the House of Commons and King Charles dissolving Parliament to rule alone. This triggers the English Civil War, in which the Commonwealth forces are victorious and defeat the Royalists. However, Parliament soon proves corrupt and incompetent, full of aristocrats hoping to cement their own aristocratic rule over England rather than a truly democratic government. The movie ends with Commonwealth troops storming the House of Commons and Oliver Cromwell dissolving Parliament to rule alone. Sir Thomas Fairfax even remarks, "I seem to recall that we cut off a king's head for such as this."
  • Good Parents:
    • Cromwell is a good father to his sons, Oliver Jr. and Richard, to the point he trusts them to serve as captains in the war against Charles I. Sadly, after a stunning Parliamentist victory at Naseby, Oliver Jr. is revealed to have died, something that shakes Oliver to his core to the point of angrily condemning lords whose laziness jeopardized his army's strength.
    • Charles I is also shown to love his children deeply. While he initially scolds his eldest son, Charles II, for praying in his mother's Catholic monastery rather than an English Protestant one, he ensures his son's safety by sending him to France. Charles II is devastated to leave his father, with the two hugging before Charles II departs. When Cromwell's army arrests Charles I, his main concern is his children, who Cromwell says can be taken with the king to London. Charles then spends most of his time playing with his daughter, Elizabeth, and his son, Henry. Shortly before the king's execution, Charles has a tearful goodbye with Elizabeth and Henry, telling the latter to tell their mother he loved her while telling Henry to support his elder brother's birthright as king rather than be made a puppet ruler.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: While the film is generally more sympathetic to Cromwell than anyone else, it also shows him as a self-righteous man with a boiling temper that often boils over who is actually quite wrong about King Charles's supposed "Romish" sympathies. King Charles I is actually portrayed pretty sympathetically, as a fundamentally good man trying to do what he thinks is right and lawful, but his disgust for the proto-democracy of the parliamentary side of the English revolution drives him to repeatedly burn bridges rather than compromise with them, even considering cutting a deal with the Catholic Church for troops and trying to intrigue to cause a second civil war after being given fairly generous terms in the aftermath of the first, considering he lost.
  • Heel–Face Turn: King Charles' most loyal supporter, Sir Edward Hyde, has one as he slowly loses faith in Charles' actions over the course of the film culminating in him testifying against the former king at his trial.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The movie gives the impression that Cromwell spent the years of the Rump Parliament on his lands in Huntingdon. In actuality, he was leading a brutal military campaign in Ireland, which earned him a reputation for cruelty and has been retroactively accused of being tantamount to genocide by some historians.note 
  • Historical Relationship Overhaul: One fact that isn't touched upon is that Henry Ireton was Cromwell's son-in-law, having married his oldest daughter, Bridget. The closest the film gets is a brief Freeze-Frame Bonus of Ireton standing next to her at church before he and Cromwell are called outside on urgent business.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Henrietta Maria is shown as a ruthless and manipulative woman. The real Henrietta's role in the English Civil War is hotly debated, and it's doubtful she was like that.
  • Home by Christmas: King Charles's nephew Rupert promises that they'll have taken the heads of the rebels within a week. Historically, the war lasted four years, with the Roundheads victorious. Ironically, historically it probably could have been won in short order had Rupert himself not kept abandoning discipline to chase routed enemies off the field on horseback and get his fill of the loot rather than sticking around to win the first few battles of the war decisively.
  • Honest Advisor: Both Henry Ireton and Sir Edward Hyde serve as this for Cromwell and King Charles.
  • Hot-Blooded: Cromwell. The man seems unable to go two or three scenes without erupting into righteous anger and bellowing his lungs out over some injustice or another.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Cromwell's colleague, Henry Ireton, is condescending and belligerent with his radical views being opposed by Cromwell at every point. Nearly every one of them (the onset of an English Civil War, marching on Parliament to dictate terms to the King, Oliver himself should take control of the country) end up becoming reality.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: One could make a good argument that both historically and in the context of the film Prince Rupert couldn't have held a besieged Bristol against Cromwell's forces anyway and took the best exit ramp he could. But Charles I and his vassals condemn Rupert as a Dirty Coward for deserting his post and ultimately costing them the war, especially since the price for his escape was all of Bristol's supplies and most of the army's cannons. Ironically, everyone was convinced Bristol was absolutely impregnable even though it was successfully besieged multiple times throughout the English Civil War.
  • Lady Macbeth: Queen Henrietta Maria is portrayed as encouraging her husband's autocratic impulses and trying to set up a dark alliance with the Catholic Church.
  • Large Ham: Cromwell. The Earl of Strafford counts as one too.
  • Not So Stoic: Judge John Bradshaw, the presiding magistrate at King Charles I's trial, is no-nonsense and all business. Yet, when he reads the verdict aloud, he struggles with his composure as the shock of the impact finally hits him: they have found the King of England guilty and are now sentencing him to death.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. There are at least three Johns, two Richards, and two Henrys.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: King Charles I presents himself as a cool, level-headed monarch, but there are several instances where he loses his composure and temper. First is when he chews out his wife when her Lady Macbeth tendencies force him to execute the Earl of Strafford, one of his strongest supporters, to appease Parliament. Second is when he severely castigates Prince Rupert for losing (and abandoning) the city of Bristol (see "Reason You Suck" Speech below) thereby costing his side the war. Finally, he coldly and disdainfully expresses his contempt for the terms of surrender Cromwell offers him (once Cromwell is out of earshot). Terms that his advisor, Edward Hyde, admits are exceedingly generous considering he just lost the civil war, foreshadowing Charles' intrigues to start a second civil war and revealing how deeply the war has hardened him against democratic government.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Cromwell loses a son, also named Oliver, in battle.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Charles I unleashes a vicious one on his nephew, Prince Rupert, for losing (and abandoning) the city of Bristol. A justified case as Charles knows without Bristol, he has completely lost the war.
    Charles I: Do you not rise, sir, when your king approaches?! Rise, sir! Or to your knees in shame! You did give me your most solemn promise that you would hold Bristol for four months. Yet you have not held it for four weeks! You promised mountains, yet you perform MOLEHILLS! You make a knave of your King!
  • Suddenly Shouting: Cromwell frequently goes into this when he's especially ticked off.
  • Training Montage: The creation of the New Model Army.
  • Worthy Opponent: Both Oliver Cromwell and Charles I come to see each other as this with both having a healthy respect for one another despite being enemies. Cromwell in particular, despite being hotblooded and constantly railing against the King's actions, is very cordial and accommodating to him in their several conversations. He also takes no joy or pleasure in the grim necessity of the thing when Charles is summarily executed for treason.

Alternative Title(s): Cromwell 1970