Captain Boycott (1947)

 

 

 

 

Director:  Frank Launder

Starring:  Stewart Granger (Hugh Davin), Kathleen Ryan (Anne Killain), Cecil Parker (Captain Boycott), Mervyn Johns (Watty Connell), Alastair Sim (Father McKeogh),  Noel Purcell (Daniel McGinty), Niall MacGinnis (Mark Killain), Maureen Delaney (Mrs. Davin), Eddie Byrne (Sean Kerin), Liam Redmond (Martin Egan), Liam Gaffney (Michael Fagan), Bernadette O'Farrell (Mrs. Fagan), Edward Lexy (Sgt. Dempsey), Harry Webster (Robert Hogan), Eddie Golden (Harry Piggott).

The term boycott arose in Ireland because of the terrible oppression of the Irish people under British rule and the attempts by the people to resist this oppression.  This story deals with the cooperation of poor Irish farmers to try to fight against their oppressive landlord. Robert Donat plays the role of the briefly occurring character of Charles Stuart Parnell who unsuccessfully worked toward Home Rule for Ireland.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

1880.  County Mayo in the west of Ireland.  It is an area of poverty and festering hatreds.  A stage coach stops by a gathering of men to see what is happening.  They are bringing up the body of Major Scott's Bailiff who was weighted down with stones and thrown into a bog hole where he died.  Major Scott was "evicting in all directions" and the Irish figure that this is what came of it.  In 1878 and 1879 the crop harvest was not good and some 20,000 people were evicted in three years.

On the stage coach are three passengers, the Killain family, including the father, his beautiful daughter Anne and his son Billy.  One of the sacks of grain crammed into the coach starts to leak seeds.  Anne and her father try to put the seeds back into the sack when she discovers a pistol hidden in the sack.  She looks at the address on the sack ticket and finds out that the sack is headed to Hugh Davin, Mulcreath Far, Lough Mask, County Mayo. 

School teacher Daniel presents a rousing view of Irish history to his students.  Father McKeogh comes to the door to watch Daniel.  The Father talks with Daniel and tells him "don't stir up people".   The news arrives that Captain Boycott, a wealthy land owner, is handing out eviction notices.  Everyone rushes out of the school house to warn the people. 

Hugh Davin on a handsome horse comes to the road and the coach stops for him.  When they retrieve the sack of grain for Davin he sees Anne Killain in the coach and is struck by her beauty.  He is very interested in her.  The stage coach proceeds onward and Davin takes the sack back to his farm.  There Watty Connell, who works for Captain Boycott doing all his really dirty work in regard to the poor farmers, waits for him.  Davin is very suspicious of Connell and asks him what he is doing at his farm.  Connell asks if Davin plans to run his horse in the races coming up.  Just as Davin starts to relax, Connell hands him an eviction notice.  Davin is furious with him. 

There is an informal muster of the "troops".  About forty farmers have joined together to make an unofficial civilian militia.  Davin is in charge of the militia.  Some of the farmers want to support the Land League of Mr. Parnell, the great Irish politician pushing for Home Rule for Ireland. Davin does not know much about Parnell, but he knows he doesn't like him because Parnell is a big landowner and a competing force for the attentions of the farmers.

Davin goes to a dance to see if he can see Anne Killain again.  He asks about her and finds out that she is from Wexford; is twenty-one years of age; and had a brother who was killed because he had a gun.  He sees Anne and talks with her.  Then the police question Davin about the missing Connell wondering if Davin had killed the hated man.  Davin protests his innocence and Father McKeogh intervenes to remind the police that they have no real evidence that Davin did anything to Connell.  Later Davin walks Anne home and there they find Connell talking with her father.

The local Land League deputation regarding rents meets with Captain Boycott.  Martin Egan is the spokesman for the group.  The Captain is a real jerk.  He is an extremely stern master and runs his staff of farm workers as if they were an army.  Like most wealthy men, he believes that the farmers are to blame for their own poverty because they do not work hard enough.  The captain thinks that, like children, the farmers and farm workers should be seen and not heard.  He is also a very hard-headed, stubborn man with a great deal of undeserved feeling of superiority to the Irish farmers.  The deputation asks Captain Boycott for a rent reduction and he loudly declares that "This is blackmail!".  The deputation realizes that the man is impossible to deal with and they leave.

The next day the police, Captain Boycott and Connell ride to the center of town to start evicting a farmer.  Davin sees them coming and rides to warn the people.  The people then begin warning the whole countryside with a system of fires and the waving of large white flags from hill to hill.  The evictors start heading south and word is past about where they are headed.  The people in the south start packing up their goods to escape from the evictors, who will take everything they have and sell it.  But suddenly the evictors double-back to throw off the farmers watching them. They head for the farm of Michael Fagan. 

Davin rides his horse to catch up with and pass the evictors.  Captain Boycott starts to race against Davin, but the captain falls off his horse.  Davin warns the Fagans, but it is too late.  Captain Boycott and his people are there soon after the arrival of Davin.  Mrs. Fagan begs the captain not to evict them, but it is of no use.  Mr. Fagan mutters a threat that he will take care of those moving in to take his farm. 

Davin is absolutely shocked and very upset when he learns that Anne's family is the one that will be moving into the Fagan farm.  He goes to see her.  Anne tells him that they too were evicted and that her family needs a roof over their head.  In addition, her father has not worked for three years. Davin tells her that she is going against her own people.  He also warns her that her family is in danger --  there will be retribution for what she and her family have done.  He says they will find a roof for her family, but Anne's mind is made up.   

Parnell is giving a speech and many of the village residents want to hear the man speak.  Davin wants to go too, but he and his followers want to break up Parnell's speech.  They take apples and eggs with them to the speech to throw at Parnell.  At the speech, Davin is all set to start pelting Parnell, but he hears something that he likes.  Parnell speaks out for Irish liberty and he presents some alternatives to the use of violence by the Irish.  He tells the farmers not to pay unjust rents and to shun any one in the village who is a farm grabber.  A light bulb goes off in the head of Davin and he does not break up the speech. 

Davin goes to the local meeting of the Land League and tells Martin Egan and the others that they should combine together and apply Parnell's suggestion in Mayo.  The others are skeptical of Davin, but he wins them over with some good arguments.

Captain Boycott arrives home one night to an almost completely deserted farm. The house staff and the farm workers are all gone.  He doesn't understand what has happened, but then he discovers one of the maids trying to sneak out of his house.  Boycott and Connell demand to know what is going on and when the maid is reluctant to say anything, Connell slaps her across the face three times.  She cries and confesses that no one will work for the captain.  In fact, no one will have anything to do with him and Connell.  The maid also confesses that Davin is the main force behind the action.  The stubborn Boycott shouts:  "I'll break every man Jack of you."

Two local boys beat up Billy, Anne's brother.  Captain Boycott puts a short note in the paper appealing for support from those of his social class background.  The papers report that the government will support the Captain.  Troops are being sent to make sure the Captain's crops are harvested.  The press descends on the small village, expecting something juicy to happen.  The troops pitch their tents on the Captain's property near the manor house.  The Captain gives a big ball for the military officers and his supporters and the group seems united behind the cause of Boycott.

Things, however, do not go well for the captain.  The few workers they are able to get to work do not work hard and the crops are not really getting harvested in a timely manner.  Captain Boycott is falling into real financial trouble.  Now he feels that his prize horse must win the local horse races in order for him to recoup his loses. Unfortunately for the captain, his horse Prince has broken a fetlock and cannot run in any races.

Davin arrives home one day to see Michael Fagan quickly scurrying away from his farm house.  Davin goes inside the farmhouse and asks his mother why Fagan had paid her a visit.  She lies to him and he tells her he knows she is lying.  He goes to look for his pistol and it is gone.  He scolds his mother for giving the pistol to Fagan because Fagan will probably hurt someone with it.  But his mother does not care.  She is a real radical and says it is time that somebody did something to stand up to the likes of Captain Boycott. 

Davin rushes over to Anne's house to warn her about Fagan.  There he tells her that he loves her.  He asks Anne to marry him and share his farm with him.  But at this very moment, the police are supervising the destruction of Davin's farm house.  They are evicting him and his mother.  They also take his horse and since only Captain Boycott will bid on the horse, the horse goes to Boycott for next to nothing. 

When the Colonel of the armed forces learns about the horse, he scolds Boycott that his actions in regard to the horse look bad.  It sounds like dishonesty and taking advantage of the situation.  He says his soldiers will say that they wanted Davin's horse and so they took it.  This will negatively impact the soldiers who will now be sympathetic to Davin and his side in the dispute.  The Colonel adds that if the Captain races Davin's horse in the races, he will not be responsible for the violence that will surely follow.  (But Captain Boycott needs the money desperately.)

At the races the crowd is becoming increasingly angry and hostile.  When Captain Boycott appears on Davin's horse the crowd starts booing.  In the race the captain and his horse are behind the pack, but his horse finally catches up with the lead horse and then takes a long lead in the race.  Seeing that the captain is about to win, Daniel the politicized schoolteacher rouses his men to do something.  As the captain approaches the finishing line, the Irish farmers start walking in a large group onto the track.  They actually force Boycott to stop the horse.  The Irish then start to hit him and try to pull him off the horse.  The soldiers at the races intervene to protect Boycott and all hell breaks out with troops fighting civilians and vice-versa. 

Meanwhile, Fagan tracks down Anne's father and shoots him, wounding the man.  Her father, however, is a very strong man and he is able to grab Fagan and throw him off the adjacent cliffs to his death.  Word goes out that Anne's father has killed Fagan.  Schoolteacher Daniel starts to stir up the men at the local pub.  They want to march on Mr. Killain's house and teach him a lesson.  Davin tries to stop them, but a group of men manhandle him and one knocks him to the floor and Davin hits his head on the bar knocking him out for a minute.  When he wakes up, Davin sees that the men have gone.  He starts running to Anne's house to warn her.  He decides that he has to pass through Boycott's place in order to beat the crowd to the Killain house.  Three soldiers grab him and take him into the Colonel and Captain Boycott.  For once in his life, Boycott is reasonable.  He does not want to see Mr. Killain killed by the mob and he has the soldiers release Davin and give him his horse. 

At the Killain house, Davin is shocked to see the priest reading something from the Bible over the dead body of Anne's father.  When the mob arrives, Davin is able to stop them with the news that Mr. Killain is already dead, shot by Fagan with Davin's pistol.  He is backed up by Father McKeogh who tells the men that they have won.  The army and Captain Boycott right now are leaving the village.  He adds that they have set an example for other Irishmen and that their boycott technique would be studied wherever men are oppressed.  The oppressed can isolate, can boycott the oppressors without the use of physical violence.

 

Good movie.  It is a stirring movie to see the Irish use a non-violent means of opposing the oppression of the British system of subjugation of the Irish.  Many of the men wanted to resort to violence, but a non-violent alternative was suggested by the great politician Stewart Parnell and applied in County Mayo.  The Irish refused to work for Captain Boycott and shunned him and anyone who worked with him socially.  By applying this principle, they invented what became known as the boycott.  The love story between the main character Davin and the beautiful Anne was also good, but the main thing is the fight against oppression and the triumph of non-violence over violence. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

See Parnell (1937) for the historical setting.  

 

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