Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Captain Boycott (1947)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Captain Boycott (1947)
35mm, black and white, 92 mins
Directed byFrank Launder
Production CompanyIndividual Pictures
ProducersSidney Gilliat, Frank Launder
Screenplay byFrank Launder, Wolfgang Wilhelm
Original novelPhilip Rooney
PhotographyWilkie Cooper
Music byWilliam Alwyn

Cast: Stewart Granger (Hugh Davin), Kathleen Ryan (Anne Killain), Cecil Parker (Captain Charles C. Boycott), Alastair Sim (Father McKeogh), Mervyn Johns (Watty Connell), Noel Purcell (Daniel McGinty), Robert Donat (Charles Stewart Parnell)

Show full cast and credits

The story of how the landlord Captain Charles Boycott was defeated by his tenant farmers after they refused to co-operate with him, their success going on to enrich the English language.

Show full synopsis

Despite the box-office disappointment of his Irish-themed I See A Dark Stranger (1946), Frank Launder returned to the emerald isle for his next film, both literally (it was shot on location) and thematically. But he took fewer risks with both audience and censor by adapting a true story that took place nearly seventy years earlier.

Captain Charles Boycott (1832-1897) was a landlord in County Mayo whose extortionate rents and enforced evictions were defeated through well-organised passive resistance by his tenants, fired up by a speech made in 1880 by the prominent politician Charles Stewart Parnell (the President of the Irish Land League, which represented tenants' rights) in which he urged shunning rather than shooting. Boycott alerted The Times to his plight, which coined the word "boycott" that same year.

The story is strong enough for Launder to present it largely unvarnished, with only a token nod towards commercial necessity in the form of a somewhat perfunctory romance between Hugh Davin (Stewart Granger) and Anne Killain (Kathleen Ryan). Even that is generally presented in terms of the political complications animating almost every encounter between them: Davin's declaration of love is almost an aside.

Launder is much more interested in historical analysis, in a considerably more nuanced mode than the highly selective lessons taught by Daniel McGinty (Noel Purcell). Although the film's own loyalties are clear, the villagers are by no means all sympathetic. Michael Fagan (Liam Gaffney) has an excuse for his murderous attitude towards the Killains, whose presence in his forcibly vacated property he regards as adding insult to injury, but McGinty's enthusiasm for violence goes well beyond anything strictly necessary. On the opposing side, troop commander Lieutenant-Colonel Strickland (Maurice Denham) makes some caustic observations of Boycott's conduct, suggesting that he regards the situation as stemming from personal flaws rather than any intractable problems with the landlord-tenant system or indeed Anglo-Irish relations in general.

If this makes Captain Boycott sound like a dry history lesson, it should be stressed that it's also a 1940s Launder and Gilliat production, which means that it's expertly constructed, wittily scripted, impeccably cast and enormously entertaining. Of those not already mentioned, Cecil Parker's Boycott is a fine study of infuriating English pig-headedness, Alastair Sim adds Father McKeogh to his gallery of eccentric authority figures while Robert Donat has a brief but compelling cameo as Parnell, whose unexpectedly rousing speech catalyses the film's key events.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Selective truth (3:05)
2. Anne's dilemma (2:57)
3. Parnell's speech (3:30)
4. The boycott begins (2:21)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Cooper, Wilkie (1911-2001)
Denham, Maurice (1909-2002)
Donat, Robert (1905-1958)
Gilliat, Sidney (1908-1994)
Granger, Stewart (1913-1993)
Johns, Mervyn (1899-1992)
Launder, Frank (1906-1997)
Morris, Oswald (1915-)
Parker, Cecil (1897-1971)
Sim, Alastair (1900-1976)