The Young Mr. Pitt

Last updated

The Young Mr. Pitt
A scene from the film
Directed by Carol Reed
Written by Frank Launder
Sidney Gilliat
Viscount Castlerosse (additional dialogue and original novel)
Starring Robert Donat
Robert Morley
Phyllis Calvert
John Mills
Cinematography Freddie Young
Edited by R. E. Dearing
Music by Louis Levy
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 21 September 1942 (1942-09-21)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Young Mr. Pitt is a 1942 British biographical film of the life of William Pitt the Younger and in particular his struggle against revolutionary France and Napoleon. It was directed by Carol Reed and stars Robert Donat, Robert Morley, Phyllis Calvert and John Mills. [1] Made in black-and-white, it was produced by Edward Black and Maurice Ostrer for the British subsidiary of 20th Century Fox.


It was filmed as the Second World War was raging. Similar parallels with the struggle against Hitler's Germany were implied in That Hamilton Woman (aka Lady Hamilton, 1941), made by Alexander Korda in the United States [2] with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in the leads. Several of the speeches which Pitt makes against Napoleon are actually the words of Churchill in relation to Hitler, in particular the "we stand alone" speech from 1940.


In 1770, William Pitt the Elder gives a speech in Parliament strongly advising against war with the American colonies, and then advises his second son, a young man also named William Pitt, to avoid seeking fame through war. Years later, the ministry of Charles James Fox and Lord North falls. Pitt the Younger is only 24, unpopular due to his opposition to the war in America and with a reputation as a reformer, and with no majority in the House of Commons. However, despite all this, King George III summons him and asks him to form a government.

Pitt tries to gain Fox's support, but is rebuffed. He is ridiculed in Parliament, but despite having no majority, refuses to resign. He is even subject to a night ambush, but noted boxers Dan Mendoza and Gentleman Jackson help drive the assailants away. Reassured by the boxers' claims of strong support for him amongst the general public, Pitt calls an election on a platform of peace and prosperity, which gives him a majority. Against Fox's constant opposition, he then institutes reforms and strengthens the Royal Navy, whilst intermittently events in Napoleon Bonaparte's childhood and military training are shown.

The French Revolution erupts and France invades Belgium. With France and Britain both nominally committed to Dutch neutrality, Talleyrand fails to convince Pitt into an alliance with France or at least pro-French neutrality and a French invasion of the Dutch Republic soon afterwards triggers a British declaration of war. Public opinion turns against the war as early successes turn to defeats such as the Siege of Toulon, won by Napoleon's artillery knowledge, but even when Britain's continental allies fall, Pitt refuses to sue for peace.

Pitt's friend William Wilberforce continues to support peace negotiations and abstains from a vote on the matter. Via Melvill, an American intermediary, Talleyrand sends word to Pitt that French moderates are willing to make peace, but before Pitt can exploit this, Napoleon seizes power. Learning of this during one of his regular visits to Walmer Castle, Pitt realises Napoleon's desire is for world domination and commits himself totally to the arduous struggle ahead, sacrificing even his hopes for marriage to Eleanor Eden. He also discovers that he has neglected his personal finances and is now deeply in debt, though these debts are soon paid off by an unknown friend.

He institutes a bold but risky strategy, going on the offensive in the Mediterranean, and chooses Horatio Nelson over more senior admirals to lead the naval squadron assigned the task. Napoleon sails from Toulon to invade Egypt while Nelson's blockading ships are scattered by a gale. Meanwhile, Pitt collapses from overwork and is warned by his doctor about his health. Nelson finds and destroys the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. The people cheer Pitt, but the war continues until Napoleon personally writes to George III, superficially to suggest peace negotiations but in fact to exacerbate pro- and anti-war divisions in Britain. Pitt is forced to resign, just before receiving news of Eleanor's impending wedding. A peace treaty is signed, giving Napoleon time to build up his armies and his fleet, whilst Addington's administration naively hopes for a lasting peace and neglects Britain's defences.

Napoleon gathers his forces on the French coast facing England and popular opinion thrusts Pitt back into power, replacing Addington, despite his doctor's warnings. He gains the support of the king and even of Fox as he rearms Britain and institutes a system of fencibles and militia for home defence. The decisive British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar puts an end to the invasion threat, though in a speech at the Guildhall Pitt states that victory has been achieved not just by him but the whole nation, also predicting that Britain will go on to save Europe.



Sidney Gilliat says he had a big fight with Carol Reed during the making of the film which resulted in Gilliant leaving the project. [3]


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times felt "the nature of the historical period in which this film is set and the evident fidelity of the authors to the facts of Mr. Pitt's life conspire to prevent this picture from having a sharp dramatic impact." [4]

According to Kinematograph Weekly the film was one of the most popular at the British box office in 1942, after Mrs Miniver , First of the Few , How Green Was My Valley , Reap the Wild Wind , Holiday Inn , Captains of the Clouds , Sergeant York , One of Our Aircraft is Missing and Hatter's Castle . [5]


  1. His first English-speaking role
  2. 1 2 3 4 Uncredited

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George III</span> King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 to 1820

George III was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 25 October 1760 until his death in 1820. The Acts of Union 1800 unified Great Britain and Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with George as its king. He was concurrently Duke and Prince-elector of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was a monarch of the House of Hanover, who, unlike his two predecessors, was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Napoleonic Wars</span> 1803–1815 series of wars led by Napoleon

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of conflicts fought between the First French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte (1804–1815) and a fluctuating array of European coalitions. The wars originated in political forces arising from the French Revolution (1789–1799) and from the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802), and produced a period of French domination over Continental Europe. The wars are categorised as seven conflicts, five named after the coalitions that fought Napoleon, plus two named for their respective theatres; the War of the Third Coalition, War of the Fourth Coalition, War of the Fifth Coalition, War of the Sixth Coalition, War of the Seventh Coalition, the Peninsular War, and the French invasion of Russia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord</span> French diplomat (1754–1838), Prime Minister of France in 1815

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, 1st Prince of Benevento, then Prince of Talleyrand, was a French secularized clergyman, statesman, and leading diplomat. After studying theology, he became Agent-General of the Clergy in 1780. In 1789, just before the French Revolution, he became Bishop of Autun. He worked at the highest levels of successive French governments, most commonly as foreign minister or in some other diplomatic capacity. His career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the years of the French Revolution, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis Philippe I. Those Talleyrand served often distrusted him but, like Napoleon, found him extremely useful. The name "Talleyrand" has become a byword for crafty and cynical diplomacy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Wilberforce</span> English politician and abolitionist (1759–1833)

William Wilberforce was a British politician, a philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. A native of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, he began his political career in 1780, and became an independent Member of Parliament (MP) for Yorkshire (1784–1812). In 1785, he underwent a conversion experience and became an Evangelical Anglican, which resulted in major changes to his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Pitt the Younger</span> British statesman and prime minister (1759–1806)

William Pitt was a British statesman, the youngest and last prime minister of Great Britain from 1783 until the Acts of Union 1800, and then first prime minister of the United Kingdom from January 1801. He left office in March 1801, but served as prime minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was also Chancellor of the Exchequer for all of his time as prime minister. He is known as "Pitt the Younger" to distinguish him from his father, William Pitt the Elder, who had also previously served as prime minister.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Treaty of Amiens</span> 1802 Treaty during the War of the Second Coalition

The Treaty of Amiens temporarily ended hostilities between France, the Spanish Empire, and the United Kingdom at the end of the War of the Second Coalition. It marked the end of the French Revolutionary Wars; after a short peace it set the stage for the Napoleonic Wars. Britain gave up most of its recent conquests; France was to evacuate Naples and Egypt. Britain retained Ceylon and Trinidad.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles James Fox</span> British politician (1749–1806)

Charles James Fox, styled The Honourable from 1762, was a British Whig politician and statesman whose parliamentary career spanned 38 years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was the arch-rival of the Tory politician William Pitt the Younger; his father Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, a leading Whig of his day, had similarly been the great rival of Pitt's famous father, William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh</span> British statesman (1769–1822)

Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry,, usually known as Lord Castlereagh, derived from the courtesy title Viscount Castlereagh by which he was styled from 1796 to 1821, was a British statesman and politician. As secretary to the Viceroy in Ireland, he worked to suppress the Rebellion of 1798 and to secure passage in 1800 of the Irish Act of Union. As the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom from 1812, he was central to the management of the coalition that defeated Napoleon, and was British plenipotentiary at the Congress of Vienna. In the post-war government of Lord Liverpool, Castlereagh was seen to support harsh measures against agitation for reform, and he ended his life an isolated and unpopular figure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Canning</span> Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1827

George Canning was a British Tory statesman. He held various senior cabinet positions under numerous prime ministers, including two important terms as Foreign Secretary, finally becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for the last 119 days of his life, from April to August 1827.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Addington</span> Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1804

Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, was a British Tory statesman who served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1804.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">XYZ Affair</span> Diplomatic episode between the US and France (1797–1798)

The XYZ Affair was a political and diplomatic episode in 1797 and 1798, early in the presidency of John Adams, involving a confrontation between the United States and Republican France that led to the Quasi-War. The name derives from the substitution of the letters X, Y, and Z for the names of French diplomats Jean-Conrad Hottinguer (X), Pierre Bellamy (Y), and Lucien Hauteval (Z) in documents released by the Adams administration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louis Antoine, Duke of Enghien</span> French royal; son of Louis Henri, Prince of Condé

Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien was a member of the House of Bourbon of France. More famous for his death than his life, he was executed by order of Napoleon Bonaparte, who brought charges against him of aiding Britain and plotting against Napoleon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham</span> British soldier and politician

General John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, also 2nd Viscount Pitt and 2nd Baron Chatham, was a British soldier and politician. He spent a lengthy period in the cabinet but is best known for commanding the disastrous Walcheren Campaign of 1809.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Windham</span> 18th/19th-century British politician

William Windham of Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, was a British Whig statesman. Elected to Parliament in 1784, Windham was attached to the remnants of the Rockinghamite faction of Whigs, whose members included his friends Charles James Fox and Edmund Burke. Windham soon became noted for his oratory in the House of Commons.

<i>Amazing Grace</i> (2006 film) 2006 film by Michael Apted

Amazing Grace is a 2006 biographical drama film directed by Michael Apted, about the abolitionist campaign against the slave trade in the British Empire, led by William Wilberforce, who was responsible for steering anti-slave trade legislation through the British parliament. The title is a reference to the 1772 hymn "Amazing Grace". The film also recounts the experiences of John Newton as a captain of slave ships and subsequent Christian conversion, which inspired his writing of the poem later used in the hymn. Newton is portrayed as a major influence on Wilberforce and the abolition movement.

<i>That Hamilton Woman</i> 1941 film by Alexander Korda

That Hamilton Woman, also known as Lady Hamilton, is a 1941 black-and-white historical film drama produced and directed by Alexander Korda for his British company during his exile in the United States. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the film tells the story of the rise and fall of Emma Hamilton, dance-hall girl and courtesan, who married Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, and later became Admiral Horatio Nelson's mistress.

<i>The Magic Box</i> 1951 British drama film by John Boulting

The Magic Box is a 1951 British Technicolor biographical drama film directed by John Boulting. The film stars Robert Donat as William Friese-Greene, with numerous cameo appearances by performers such as Peter Ustinov and Laurence Olivier. It was produced by Ronald Neame and distributed by British Lion Film Corporation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Whitworth, 1st Earl Whitworth</span> 18th/19th-century British diplomat and politician

Charles Whitworth, 1st Earl Whitworth, GCB, PC, known as The Lord Whitworth between 1800 and 1813 and as The Viscount Whitworth between 1813 and 1815, was a British diplomat and politician.

<i>Beau Brummell</i> (1954 film) 1954 film by Curtis Bernhardt

Beau Brummell is a 1954 British historical film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was directed by Curtis Bernhardt and produced by Sam Zimbalist from a screenplay by Karl Tunberg, based on the 1890 play Beau Brummell by Clyde Fitch. The play was previously adapted as a silent film made in 1924 and starring John Barrymore as Beau Brummell, Mary Astor, and Willard Louis as the Prince of Wales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">British anti-invasion preparations of 1803–05</span>

British anti-invasion preparations of 1803–05 were the military and civilian responses in the United Kingdom to Napoleon's planned invasion of the United Kingdom. They included mobilization of the population on a scale not previously attempted in Britain, with a combined military force of over 615,000 in December 1803. Much of the southern English coast was fortified, with numerous emplacements and forts built to repel the feared French landing. However, Napoleon never attempted his planned invasion and so the preparations were never put to the test.


  1. "The Young Mr. Pitt (1942)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 3 May 2017.
  2. Patricia Warren British Film Studios: An Illustrated History, London: B.T. Batsford, 2001, pp. 33, 145
  3. Fowler, Roy; Haines, Taffy (15 May 1990). "Interview with Sidney Gilliat" (PDF). British Entertainment History Project. p. 125.
  4. Bosley Crowther (11 March 1943). "' The Young Mr. Pitt,' a British Historical Drama, With Robert Donat in Title Role, Has Its Premiere at the Roxy". The New York Times.
  5. Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 231.