There’s something veddy English about The Winslow Boy, Terence Rattigan’s 1946 drama about one family’s quixotic efforts to restore the good name of their youngest son (Spencer Davis Milford), who has been expelled from a military academy after an unproven charge that he’s stolen a five-shilling postal order. Even the lad’s older brother (Zachary Booth) refers to the case, based on a real 1908 case that became a cause celebre, as ”much ado about damn-all” — and it’s hard not to sympathize with his point of view.
Over two hours and 45 minutes, Ratigan explores the family’s unrelenting quest for justice — with the unlikely aid of a haughty and high-fee barrister (Allesandro Nivola, nicely off-putting) — and the toll it takes on the entire family. Roger Rees is marvelous as Mr. Winslow, a principled man with a stubborn streak and a gift for witty asides, who seems to physically wither over the course of the play. Charlotte Parry is equally fine as his idealistic, suffragette daughter, Kate, who willingly forgoes both her dowery and her fiancée to support the cause.
Director Lindsay Posner, who previously staged the show at London’s Old Vic, brings a crisp precision to the proceedings. But there’s only so much you can do with the material, which feels like an over-long and decidedly twee Masterpiece Theatre drama. The second act sags with repetitive points and the unfortunate circumstances of its staging: Since the action is confined to the Winslows’ finely appointed Edwardian drawing room (designed by Peter McKintosh), we only get second-hand accounts of the climactic proceedings in the courtroom and halls of parliament. As a result, this distant footnote in history feels even more remote. B?