“Young Winston” (1972)
This film tells the fascinating story of young Winston Churchill’s rise from an ambitious, horseback-riding war-correspondent to soldier and then escaped prisoner-of-war (during the Boer War) to his early forays into British politics. Simon Ward’s final speech—he sounds exactly as one would expect a youthful Winston Churchill to sound—is a tour-de-force. The entire speech is well-memorized and well-acted; and, as mentioned, Ward’s delivery of it is exemplary. In fact Simon Ward’s Churchill-impersonation throughout the film is uncanny. The cast is stellar, especially Robert Shaw as Lord Randolph Churchill, as he slowly succumbs to the ravages of syphilis and then descends into debilitating madness. As one might expect, Anne Bancroft (as Churchill’s American-born mother. Jennie Jerome) looks stunningly beautiful.
My only quibble about the film is that no one, not even in a 19th-century Latin school, would have stupidly and literally addressed a table as “O Table”. Unless he were completely bonkers (talking to tables, rocks and trees &c.) or did so for humorous effect or poetic reasons, ancient Romans (as well as 19th-century Victorians) were just as unlikely to have addressed inanimate objects as we would be today. It would have been just as silly and ridiculous then as it is now. The vocative case of an inanimate object (like a table &c.) is only included in standard Latin grammars for the sake of completeness and, since mensa is an easy first declension noun to learn, all of its possible cases are laid out in an array for students to memorize by heart. But the authors of Latin grammars could just as easily have picked agricola ‘farmer’ as a first declension noun to learn, in which case ‘O farmer’ does not sound quite so ludicrous as ‘O table’. (By the way, the traditional Latin grammar in those days would have been the famous one by Kennedy. In fact the famous green cover of this grammar can be seen in the film.) Maybe Churchill was simply a bad Latin scholar. But then it must be remembered that Churchill is quoted as saying “…and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour and Greek as a treat”. I think the film simply wanted to make the point that unthinking, mechanical rote memorization is sometimes robotic and silly and doubly so to a bright student like Churchill, who would have (rightly) questioned the need for addressing an inanimate object.