The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
This film has an air of mystery and tension throughout. Pay attention to the little moments and the props to figure out all that’s going on! Joe Ross (Campbell Scott, son of renowed actors Colleen Dewhurst & George C. Scott) is a plain-spoken, well-mannered company man who’s flown down to a (fictional) Caribbean island called St. Estephe. Why? Because it’s his reward for inventing a formula (inside a red leathbound ledger). This secret formula, his boss Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara) says, must be safeguarded from the wrong hands. Joe is glad to have a little vacation (along w/ spending money and posh clothes), but anxious about the promotion/money he has yet to receive for his hard work.
In St. Estephe, Joe and his friend/co-worker, a lawyer named George Lang (Ricky Jay), meet a young, pretty and chatty secretary named Susan Ricci (Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet’s wife and a singer). Susan has been working on the island (also w/ Mr. Klein’s company) for a month. Susan is pleasantly surprised by Joe’s gentlemanly ways; she develops a crush on him.
Joe also meets a mysterious, suave older man named Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin). Joe is impressed by Jimmy’s stories, and a promise of friendship when he returns to NYC. (We sense that Joe has a streak of ambition underneath his unassuming demeanor.) Jimmy is either a millionaire businessman or a master con man. Watch to find out!
David Mamet’s dialogue will sound unnatural if you’re not used to it; his work is meant for the stage. He’s very good at showing how men talk to and relate to other men. (Another director who does this well is Barry Levinson.) The actors Mamet uses are top-notch, even when scenes are a bit too stagey.
The Winslow Boy (1999)
This terrific film (inspired by real events in early 1900s England) reveals deep meaning by being subtle and gentle. It’s a character-driven family drama with a hint of romance. It takes us back to a time when a man’s word was taken as truth, even if the man was a young boy (like title character Ronald Winslow).
The Winslows are a comfortable middle-class family in London; they’ve all gathered together before Christmas. Aging patriarch/banker Arthur Winslow (Nigel Hawthorne) presides over the family with a gentle voice and easygoing nature. Grace (Jemma Jones) is the sensitive , yet strong, matriarch.
Oldest child Catherine (close to 30) is a whip smart, independant-minded suffragette. She’s supported in her cause by the family (unusual for that time). Cate’s engaged at the start of the film.
The baby of the family, 13 y.o. Ronnie (Guy Edwards), attends a prestigious boarding school- the Royal Naval Academy. But he’s hastily expelled for (supposedly) stealing a postal order. His father believes him when Ronnie declares he’s innocent, and a historic legal battle ensues.
The Winslow case is discussed on the street and in the press; public support for the boy is strong. But the court case goes badly until the family expend their influence/money to hire Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam), the noted lawyer/member of the House of Commons. He and Cate are attracted to each other from their first meeting, but their politics may keep them apart. (Sir Robert is a staunch conservative.)
Sir Robert, a restrained man from a high sphere of society, grows to admire the ordinary family. Mr. Winslow won’t give up the case, even when his health worsens. Cate regularly comes to court (the Ladies’ Gallery) to watch the proceedings. What sacrifices will the Winslows make to support Ronnie? Will he be found innocent?
NOTE: The DVD I bought has a commentary track w/ Mamet, Pidgeon, Hawthorne, and Northam. It’s informative and fun!
About writer/director/ David Mamet
About Campbell Scott (currently on USA’s Royal Pains)
The Campbell Scott Compendium: a fan site
Rebecca Pidgeon’s Official Web Site