In the opening scenes of The Young Mr. Pitt, Carol Reed gets as solid a grip on his audience as a director could hope for. Pitt the Elder eloquently pleads the cause of the American colonists and implores the House of Commons to set them free without bloodshed. His young son watches raptly from the visitors’ gallery. Later at home, celebrating the boy’s birthday, Pitt permits his son to drink wine. As Pitt Jr. sips port, Pitt Sr. lays down guidelines for the boy’s future political career, which is already deemed a certainty. Although it is a bit too self-consciously principled to ring wholly true (‘Do not seek fame through war’, etc.), it is delivered with just enough affection and pomposity to offset its excessive nobility. Another tonic for this pontificating is Pitt’s gouty leg, which he keeps propped up on a chair. The contrast between his Ciceronian utterances and his oddities of manner and appearance creates a salutary tension; it is the stuff drama is made of. Pitt Jr. adds to the credibility of the scene by imperfectly comprehending his father’s advice and by growing tipsy.
But the movie that follows this hopeful prologue disappoints more often than it satisfies. In the next scene, Pitt is a brilliant twenty-four-year-old who has just been named Prime Minister. Appealing to his archrival Charles Fox (Robert Morley) for support, in the national interest, he is stingingly rebuffed. Fox is greedy for power, the exercise of which he wishes to alternate with his dissolute pleasures. Having revealed its biases, the movie proceeds to sort out all the complex issues of life in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England into a morality play in which there is no doubt as to who is virtue and who is vice. The glorification of Pitt is supposed to be, by historical transference, a glorification of Churchill, who, like Pitt, was the ‘pilot that weathered the storm’, the leader who rallied the country’s spirits in the dark days of war and fought on against a dangerous continental foe. Meanwhile, Fox plays the Neville Chamberlain role, supinely appealing for a peaceful resolution to England’s conflict with France. —Britmovie.co.uk
At the end of the 1930s, Carol Reed was regarded as one of the most promising young directors in England; at the end of the 1940s, he was the maker of one of the most popular and critically acclaimed movies of the decade, the most prominent director working in England, and the most lionized British director this side of Alfred Hitchcock, and the world was knocking at his door. During the 1950s, he became the first movie director ever to be awarded a knighthood, and he closed out the 1960s with one of the very few blockbuster musicals of its time to earn a profit or filmmaking honors, in between and around those triumphs lay a life and career worthy of a movie. Carol Reed was born into a family with some of the best artistic/theatrical credentials of any film director who ever lived. His father was Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1853-1917), the leading actor of his day and, among many other credits, the stage’s first Henry Higgins, and his mother was Tree’s mistress, May Pinney Reed. Born… read more