Cromwell (film)

Cromwell poster.jpg
Theatrical poster by Howard Terpning
Directed byKen Hughes
Written byKen Hughes
Produced byIrving Allen
StarringRichard Harris
Alec Guinness
Robert Morley
Nigel Stock
Geoffrey Keen
Michael Jayston
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byBill Lenny
Music byFrank Cordell
Irving Allen Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 16 July 1970 (1970-07-16)
Running time
140 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$8 million[1] or £9 million[2]

Cromwell is a 1970 British historical drama film written and directed by Ken Hughes. It is based on the life of Oliver Cromwell, who rose to lead the Parliamentary forces during the later parts of the English Civil War and, as Lord Protector, ruled Great Britain and Ireland in the 1650s. It features an ensemble cast, led by Richard Harris as Cromwell and Alec Guinness as King Charles I, with Robert Morley as Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester and Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

The film received two Oscar nominations during the 43rd Academy Awards held in 1971, winning one for Best Costume Design by Vittorio Nino Novarese, but losing another for Best Original Score, composed by Frank Cordell which echoed Walton (battle scenes) and Copland (everything else). It was also nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. At the 7th Moscow International Film Festival in 1971 it won the award for Best Actor (Richard Harris), and was nominated for the Golden Prize as Best Picture (Ken Hughes).[3] The film received negative reviews for its many historical inaccuracies; however, much praise went to the acting (particularly Harris and Guinness), the score, and the costume design.


Oliver Cromwell is a devout Puritan, a country squire, magistrate and former Member of Parliament. King Charles I's policies, including the enclosing of common land for the use of wealthy landowners and the introduction of "Romish" rituals into the Church of England, have become increasingly grating to many, including Cromwell. In fact, Charles regards himself as a devout Anglican, though permitting his French Queen to practise Roman Catholicism in private and 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 to stay and resume a role in politics.

Charles has unenthusiastically summoned Parliament for the first time in twelve years, as he needs money to fight wars against both the Scots and the Irish. Although to appease the Commons he agrees to execute his belligerent adviser, the Earl of Strafford, Parliament will still not grant his requests unless he agrees to reforms that could lead to a constitutional monarchy. Committed to belief in the divine right of kings, and under pressure from his queen to stand firm, Charles refuses. When he enters the parliamentary chamber with an armed guard and attempts to arrest five members of Parliament [of which in reality Cromwell was not one], war breaks out in England, with those who side with Parliament arming against the King's supporters, both parties convinced that God is on their side.

When the Parliamentary forces in which Cromwell is a cavalry officer prove ineffective at the Battle of Edgehill, he, along with Sir Thomas Fairfax, sets up the New Model Army that eventually turns the tide against the king’s forces. The army's discipline and training secure victory at the Battle of Naseby against superior numbers and Cromwell's cavalry proves to be the deciding factor, though one of his sons is killed in battle. The king is eventually encircled in his headquarters at Oxford and has his fervent supporter and nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, banished after he fails to hold the port of Bristol. He is finally defeated in a second conflict after attempting to negotiate for help from Catholic nations with the help of the queen and his eldest son, who are sent abroad for this purpose.

Cromwell later hears from Sir Edward Hyde, the king's once-loyal adviser, of Charles’ secret plans to raise a wholly Catholic army to support him, obstinately refusing 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 therefore uses Parliament to have Charles tried for treason. At the resulting trial, which takes place in the Parliament building, the king refuses to recognise any authority higher than his own, but is found guilty and sentenced to death. After a farewell to his younger children, he faces execution bravely and even his most ardent critics are moved by his dignity and the fact that he has forgiven his captors. There is little celebration or satisfaction over his death, even on Cromwell's part.

In fact Cromwell has retired moodily to his estate and reacts with anger to a request from his radical colleague Henry Ireton to become king himself. However, Parliament soon proves self-serving in governing the country until, 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, where he outlines to the viewer his vision for The Protectorate. The film ends with a voice-over stating that Cromwell served very successfully for five years as Lord Protector before Charles I's son returned as king of an England "never to be the same again".



In 1960, Hughes read John Buchan's biography, Oliver Cromwell and more books before touring England and researching from historic sites to museums and archives.[4] In September 1960, Warwick purchased the screen rights to Buchan's book and Hughes was announced as writer and director.[5] During the next few years, it was reported Peter Finch and Tony Hancock were under consideration for the title role before Richard Harris was finally cast in 1968.[4]

Hughes originally wrote the script in 1961. Richard Harris liked it and wanted to star but financiers did not consider him a big enough star at the time to finance the film. They wanted Charlton Heston but Hughes did not think he was appropriate.[6] (Heston wrote in his diaries on 2 November 1961 that he turned down "Warwick's Cromwell script."[7])

In April 1967, Irving Allen announced that John Briley had rewritten Ken Hughes' script and that Peter Hall was going to direct. Allen hoped to get Paul Scofield to play Charles I and Albert Finney to play Cromwell. Columbia were going to finance with filming to take place the following year. Hughes had tried to get Richard Burton to read the script but Burton was not interested.[6] Hughes later said he almost succeeded in making the film in 1968 but finance fell through at the last minute.[6]

In February 1969, it was announced Hughes would write and direct for Irving Allen.[8] In April, it was reported Ronald Harwood was working on the script with Ken Hughes.[9] Hughes eventually succeeded in raising the money from Columbia in the US. After $600,000 had been spent they were tempted to pull out but changed their mind. The budget started at $6 million and grew to $9 million.[10]

Most of the film was shot in England, and London's Parliament Square was constructed at Shepperton Studios,[4] but the battle scenes were shot in Spain.[11] The original cut went for three hours fifteen minutes but Hughes cut it down to two hours twenty four minutes.[6] "I think it's the best thing I've ever done," said Hughes in 1970.[6]

Historical points

Although publicity for the film boasted that it had been made "after ten years of research", the film has been criticised for its historical inaccuracies. In its defence, George MacDonald Fraser has written, "Inevitably there are historical queries all the way through, as there are bound to be in a picture which takes its subject seriously and tries to cover so much in less than two and a half hours. The main thrust of Cromwell is true, it gets a great deal of history, and the sense of history, right".[12] Costumes, locations (e.g. the layout of the House of Commons) and the appearance of actors were generally accurate but as in many historical films – as much as for practical film making purposes as anything else – liberties were taken with the course of events.

Film DepictionReality
It seriously exaggerates Cromwell's role in the events leading up to the outbreak of the English Civil War, suggesting that he and Ireton were among the five members of Parliament whom the king tried to arrest when he entered the House of Commons and that Cromwell stayed in his seat and defied the king.[13]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 that "the birds have flown" are genuine, as is Speaker Lenthall's claim that he had neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak save as the Commons directed him.[14]
It puts forward a stereotype of Roundheads being more plainly dressed than the Cavaliers.While there was some truth to it, on the battlefield the wearing of sashes and other identifying insignia was needed because on and off the battle field those from similar classes tended to dress in similar fashions.
Cromwell tells Charles I that the kind of government that he believes England should have is a democracy. Cromwell meets the king several times: before the English Civil War and after the king's arrest in Oxford.It is generally accepted that Cromwell made no such suggestion to the king. Furthermore, Cromwell disagreed with the demands for manhood suffrage made by the Army radicals in the late 1640s. It is debatable to what extent Cromwell believed in democracy, even as it was conceived of during his lifetime.
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 Cromwell's presence in the House of Commons. The Earl of Essex is shown to be present in the last scene when Cromwell dissolves Rump Parliament six years after the execution of Charles I.They would actually have sat in the House of Lords. The Earl of Essex died in 1646.
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.[15] He did write afterwards to John Hampden, "Your troopers are most of them old decayed servingmen and tapsters; and their [the Royalists] troopers are gentlemen's sons, younger sons and persons of quality...."
The famous soldiers' prayer: "O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me" is put into Cromwell's mouth.In fact, the prayer came from Sir Jacob Astley, a Royalist.[14]
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.[14]
Just before going into action at Naseby, Cromwell says "Was not Gideon outnumbered by the Amalekites?"It was the Midianites whom Gideon fought while outnumbered.[16]
Prince Rupert's white hunting poodle Boy is seen being carried by Rupert before the Battle of Naseby.In reality, Boy was killed a year earlier during the Battle of Marston Moor.[17]
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. However this was likely not an intentional change as several older biographies contend that Oliver was killed in a skirmish, in particular Thomas Carlyle, and it was from the discovery of Richard's letters that historians learned that Oliver Jr died of smallpox. The only real deliberate fictionalization is that he was killed specifically during Naseby.[14]
Cromwell is named commander-in-chief of the Parliamentary forces, while Sir Thomas Fairfax is shown as Cromwell's subordinate, for instance during the Battle of Naseby.In fact, Sir Thomas Fairfax was "Lord General" (commander-in-chief) of the New Model Army during the English Civil War; he commanded the Parliamentary forces at Naseby. 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.[14]
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.[14]
John Pym is shown to be present in Parliament after the battle of Naseby. Later, he is reported dead in 1646.He died in 1643.
Cromwell and Fairfax are shown bringing troops into the House of Commons and declaring that Cromwell now has a majority.

Pride's Purge happened but Cromwell and Fairfax were not involved. 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 MPs left after Pride's Purge were known as the Rump Parliament.

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.
Hyde is called 'Sir Edward Hyde' and addressed by the Queen as 'my lord' in scenes which take place in 1641.He, however, was not knighted until 1643, and ennobled by Charles II in 1661.
Sir Edward Hyde gives damning testimony against Charles at the king's trial.He in fact gave no evidence, and was not even in the country at the time.
Sir Thomas Fairfax is shown as present as a judge at the king's trial.He did turn up for the first day of the trial but absented himself after this.[18]
Cromwell is the first one to sign Charles' death warrant after Fairfax refuses to.Cromwell was the third to sign, after Bradshaw and Lord Grey of Groby.[14]
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.[19]
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. However, there were already complaints of corruption during these four years and some complaints from Parliamentarian members to Cromwell for help because of the corrupt government.
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 before the latter campaign that Cromwell succeeded Fairfax as Lord General.[14]
Henrietta Maria, Charles' Roman Catholic wife, is portrayed as outright manipulative.Her role in the English Civil War, while significant, is hotly contested by historians and may not have been this blatant.
The enclosures appear early in the film as a source of Cromwell's discontent.Charles I was noted for being the most noteworthy anti-enclosure reformer, though he did do a version of the enclosures to raise money during his personal rule.[20] The enclosures began under Henry VII, with Henry VIII and Edward VI being the monarchs most associated with the policy. However, it was nowhere as severe and rapid a social change as during the period of Cromwell.


Home media

Cromwell was released in 2017 on Blu-ray in Germany[21] and 2020 in France[22]. Still not released on Blu-ray in the USA[23], UK or other English speaking countries, but available digitally on online platforms, e.g. Amazon[24] and iTunes[25].



The film was generally received unfavourably, with criticism of the historical inaccuracies; however the performances of its two leads, production values and score were praised.

FilmInk said the film "does have some good things about it: Alec Guinness is superb as Charles I, and the production design is amazing. But it’s dull. So dull. Every time Richard Harris walks on screen he looks as though he’s about to give a speech and he does."[26]


The film was one of the most popular movies in 1970 at the British box-office.[27]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards[28]Best Costume DesignVittorio Nino NovareseWon
Best Original ScoreFrank CordellNominated
British Academy Film Awards[29]Best Costume DesignVittorio Nino NovareseNominated
Fotogramas de PlataBest Foreign Movie PerformerRichard Harris5th Place
Golden Globe Awards[30]Best Original ScoreFrank CordellNominated
Moscow International Film FestivalGolden PrizeKen HughesNominated
Best ActorRichard HarrisWon

See also

  • List of American films of 1970


  1. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p443
  2. ^ Making it Jordan, C. New Society; London Vol. 16, (Jul 2, 1970): 420.
  3. ^ "7th Moscow International Film Festival (1971)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Niemi, Robert (2013). Inspired by True Events: An Illustrated Guide to More Than 500 History-Based Films. p. 5. ISBN 9781610691987. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  5. ^ "London". Variety. 14 September 1960.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Cromwell knocked about a bit" The Guardian 16 July 1970: 8.
  7. ^ Heston, Charlton (1979). The actor's life : journals, 1956-1976. Pocket Books. p. 166.
  8. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: Madcap Role for Rosalind Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 27 Feb 1969: g20.
  9. ^ MISCELLANY: Trouble in store The Guardian (1959-2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]05 Apr 1969: 9.
  10. ^ Epic Whiff of Counter–revolution Date: Monday, July 13, 1970 Publication: Financial Times (London, England) Issue: 25,199 p 10
  11. ^ English Revolution Being Shot in Spain Pearson, Kenneth. Los Angeles Times (7 Aug 1969: c16.
  12. ^ Fraser, George MacDonald (1988). The Hollywood History of the World. London: Michael Joseph Limited. p. 111. ISBN 0-7181-2997-0.
  13. ^ "DVD Verdict Review - Cromwell". Archived from the original on 8 April 2009. Retrieved 2 April 2009.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Cromwell: Our Chief of Men by Antonia Fraser, 1989
  15. ^ Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (2002), p. 176
  16. ^ Book of Judges chapter 7
  17. ^ Bence-Jones, p.50.
  18. ^ Wedgwood, C.V. The Trial of Charles I (1964)
  19. ^ Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution (2002), pp. 650–2, 490, 660
  20. ^ "". Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  21. ^ "Cromwell Blu-ray". Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  22. ^ "Cromwell Blu-ray". Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  23. ^ "Cromwell Blu-ray". Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  24. ^ "Cromwell (1970)". Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  25. ^ "Cromwell (1970)". Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  26. ^ Vagg, Stephen (14 November 2020). "Ken Hughes Forgotten Auteur". FilmInk.
  27. ^ Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 269. ISBN 9780748654260.
  28. ^ "The 43rd Academy Awards (1971) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on 2 July 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  29. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1971". BAFTA. 1971. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  30. ^ "Cromwell – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.

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