The Young Mr. Pitt (1942)






Director:     Carol Reed

Starring:     Robert Donat (William Pitt / The Earl of Chatham),  Robert Morley (Charles James Fox),  Phyllis Calvert (Eleanor Eden),  John Mills (William Wilberforce),  (William Pitt as a boy),  (Mrs. Sparry),  (George III),  (Queen Charlotte),  Felix Aylmer (Lord North),  Ian McLean (Dundas),  Max Adrian (Richard Sheridan).

Country:    British film

William Pitt the Younger is prime minister from 1783- 1801 and 1804-1806 where he came up against Napoleon




Spoiler Warning:

1770, on the eve of the American War of Independence, William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham, returns to the House of Lords.  He says he would not spend a single farthing on fighting a war against the revolt of the American colonies.  "My Lords, I venture to say it, your efforts will be forever vain and impotent.  You cannot conquer America.  Were I an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I would not lay down my arms.  Never!  Never!  Never!"

Little William Pitt listens as his father gives his fiery speech in favor of American independence. 

At home dad tells William that as his second son he will go into the House of Commons, just as dad did when he was starting out.  He says the people gave him his favorite title:  William Pitt, the Great Commoner.  He tells William that evil days are coming.  "There may come a time when only a single minded man can save us."  Another piece of advice is:  "William Pitt, do not seek fame through war."

1769. Registration of the birth of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

1778.  The Earl of Chatham dies.  America is lost, governments come and go, the glory of England fades. 

In the Parliament there is an unpopular coalition government of Lord North and Charles James Fox. [House of Commons member Fox was a prominent and staunch opponent of George III.  Lord North was the Prime Minister (1770-1782).]

News arrives for George III.   The government of Lord North and Mr. Fox has been soundly defeated over the issue of the India bill in the House of Lords.  King George III wants to have the resignations of North and Fox as soon as possible.   

A servant informs Mr. Fox of this and asks when the King may expect their resignations?  Fox says the day after Judgment Day.  Men start wondering who will be the new Prime Minister.  Some say Lord Shelburne.  Fox bets that it will be Shelburne. 

George III calls in Mr. Pitt.  The King says that Pitt is very young, but he is considering making him the Prime Minister.  Does Pitt think he can form a government?  Yes.  The King worries about Pitt being a reformer, for he doesn't want any reform in his time. 

In the morning Pitt goes to speak with Fox.  Pitt tells him that the King has sent for him and he will be forming a government.  Fox is flabbergasted:  Prime Minister at age 24?  Yes, and that's why Pitt is asking Fox for help.  The House of Commons is rotten with corruption. 

Fox is not interested.  He is not about to play second fiddle to such a young man with so few followers.  Pitt makes some nasty comments about North and Fox and leaves. 

In the House of Commons Fox denounces the King for choosing an ambitious, young pup such as William Pitt the Younger.  When Pitt enters the room, most of the members start mocking him with all kinds of  hideous catcalls.    Pitt struggles to keep his composure.  Pitt starts speaking out in his own defense, but the catcalls resume again and drown out his voice. 

When Pitt goes to lunch he is razzed again about his situation and attitude.  He tells his two friends that he is definitely going to fight tooth and nail. 

Fox again calls on Pitt to resign.  He tries to defend himself, but again is drowned out by his opponents.

On his way back from Parliament William's carriage is stopped.  A bunch of hired thugs are there to teach Billy Pitt a lesson.  They pull Pitt and his friend William Wilberforce out of the coach and the fight is on.  The driver uses his whip to strike some of the thugs.  Two fellows hear the commotion and decide to go down and help the outnumbered fellows.  The good Samaritans are big fellows and they easily fight off the thugs. 

Inside a gymnasium for boxers, the two men bandage up the wounds of the two beating victims.  William asks if the two fellows are pugilists and one fellow says he's Dan Mendoza, ex-champion of England, and the other fellow is Gentleman Jackson, the reigning champion of England.  Gentleman Jackson says he would like to teach Pitt the science of boxing.  Pitt says he needs it because he not only has to fight the representatives of the people, but the actual people themselves.  The boxers says those ruffians weren't the people.  They were hired to rough up Pitt. 

The two boxers are just what Pitt needed to cheer him up.  They say very nice things about Pitt and assure him that the common people are on his side.  Pitt comes up with the idea of taking his ideas on peace and reform directly to the people, instead of trying to be heard in Parliament above all the catcalls. 

Pitt's opponents are shocked and mad, saying that Pitt has appealed to the country.  The King's dissolving Parliament and calling for a general election. 

The papers say that the Fox-North coalition is expected to be victorious at the polls.  And yet soon the headlines read that Pitt's party makes surprising headway at the polls. 

Pitt is at Number 10 Downing Street now.  The people crowd outside in the street yelling for Pitt.  Periodically, the politician has to make an appearance at the window in order to keep the crowd happy.  Pitt doesn't think he will be staying a long time.

Pitt rebuilds the British Navy.  Fox remains the main adversary of Pitt opposing his every expenditure. 

At a fancy ball a lady follows Pitt to get a chance to meet him.  She, Mrs. Eleanor Eden, finally sets it up where the meeting seems perfectly accidental.  Her father is Lord Auckland, ambassador to Holland. 

The French Revolution is about to start.  The people attack the French prison the Bastille.  Fox is happy about the events of the French Revolution, while Pitt is very skeptical and notes the great number of extremists among the forces of freedom.  And soon enough France is fighting wars against her neighbors. 

The Secretary of State Greenville brings news to the cabinet that France has declared war on Austria and has invaded Belgium.  Pitt begins to worry that France may next go against Holland and that will probably bring Britain into the war.  

The French Foreign Minister comes to speak with Pitt.  He tells Pitt that as allies, Britain and France could dominate the world.  Pitt gets down to brass tacks immediately.  He says he has recalled Auckland from Holland and he says if Holland is attacked, Britain will go to her defense. 

It's Christmas time.  Pitt pillow fights with the children of Mrs. Eden and some of the other children at the ball.   Bad news arrives and Pitt has to stop playing with the children.  Francis is readying to go to war against Holland.  Pitt speaks with the naval ministers.   He then calls for a just and necessary war against France in Parliament. 

"A man of peace becomes a man of war.  From a stormy debate in the house to discuss the strategy of war with the army to Warmner Castle where he's warden of the with the navy to approve . . . port plans for the navy . . ."

The British army marches on Dunkirk, France and the French are besieged in Toulon.  [Toulon is a city in southern France and a large military harbor on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base.]

And along comes Napoleon and he kicks the British out of Dunkirk.  The British are pushed off the continent and this creates an atmosphere of bitterness that effects Pitt.  The French take the Low Countries and invaded Italy. 

Three years of war have weakened the Prime Minister's health.  He would take breaks from it all by visiting the Auckland house. 

Back home a Mr. Mellville tells Pitt that Talleyrand told him to take a message to the Prime Minister.  The messages is one of peace.  France is bankrupt and the people want peace.  The newspapers headlines say that Pitt is negotiating peace with France. 

Pitt visits with Eleanor Eden.  They are interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Melville.  It's bad news.  The war party in France has used force to kick out the French moderates and dissolved the Parliament.  And the Austrians have surrendered and signed a peace with Napoleon.  For the time being, hopes for peace are dashed.  Now the public boos the Prime Minister and cheers on Mr. Fox. 

Pitt has neglected his many bills and now he is being sued for a substantial amount of money.  Wilberforce goes through the paper work and concludes that Pitt is deeply in debt.  It's over 30,000 pounds of debt. 

Napoleon is now named Commander-in-Chief of the French army.  He now has entire power over the French Empire.  Pitt realizes that the British people are clamoring for peace, but they must be shown how great the French threat really is.  "From now on we must realize that we are fighting a nation of armed fanatics led by an arch-fanatic.  We must work together with a single mind and a single purpose."  He says they must break Napoleon, or Napoleon will break them.  

Pitt now writes a letter to Eleanor Eden to say that all his efforts will be directed to facing the threat of Napoleon.  He basically gives her permission to seek love elsewhere because he is so overwhelmed by events.

Pitt says that he is going on the offensive.  He is going to send the fleet to the Mediterranean Sea.  What they need now is a great naval commander. 

The naval commander is Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson.  Pitt's staff is not sure of the worth of Nelson.  And Pitt is jumping over naval men with far greater experience and seniority.  Pitt doesn't care about that.  What he wants is a man with boldness.  Nelson immediately sails off in the ship Vanguard.  Pitt is not eating well. 

The news is that Napoleon has sailed from Toulon.  Nelson is pursuing the French fleet.

Pitt becomes ill.  The doctor says Pitt will be alright as long as he frees himself from all responsibility.  If Pitt keeps working at the same pace, he faces possible death.  And no more drinking Port wine. 

Bonaparte has landed in Egypt and there's no news of Nelson.  This gives Fox a lot of ammunition to fire at Pitt.  Pitt arrives during one of Fox's fiery speeches denouncing the Prime Minister.  He says he has just received the following message from Rear Admiral Nelson:  ". . . the French fleet was cited at anchor at Abu Qir Bay at the mouth of the Nile.  On the first of August we engaged the enemy at half past five in the evening.  The battle continued through the hours of darkness.  At a quarter to ten the enemy flagship the ship the Orient blew up, became a total loss.  By dawn the enemy had been decisively defeated.  According to the last information, only two French sail-of-the-line escaped. "   A big cheer goes up from all the politicians, including Fox. 

And now a brick is thrown through Mr. Fox's window.

Frustrated in the east, Napoleon directs his energies back to Europe.  Napoleon wants to get Britain's navy off his back, so he proposes peace with Britain.  This puts Pitt in an awkward position because now the rival politicians have more ammunition to use against the Prime Minister.  Pitt says it's not a matter of peace, but what Napoleon wants peace for.  Fox gets up and says he will submit his 44th proposition in support of peace.

Again Pitt is booed and jeered by the people.  It's so bad that Pitt even loses the confidence of the King.  So he decides to resign his office.  Besides that, he's just not well  -- he's a sick man.  In fact, Pitt has already resigned. 

Pitt now leaves #10 Downing Street.  He says goodbye to his servants.  He is handed a note that is an invitation to Eleanor's wedding.

The new Prime Minister, Henry Addington, moves into #10 Downing Street.   Addington approves the peace treaty and Napoleon is pleased.  So are the people as many fire works celebrations are put on.  Addington says the government can make substantial cuts in navy and military expenditure. 

Napoleon tells the British emissary that he now has an army of 480,000 men.  The English King withdraws his ambassador from Paris. 

Addington assures the politicians that there is no cause for alarm about the nation's security, but now the politicians start calling for Mr. Pitt to come back.  Friends of Pitt visit him in Kent saying that Britain is in grave danger of being invaded by the French. They want Billy to deliver a call to arms to the nation.  Billy asks his doctor about his health and the doctor still tells him that Billy must go slow.  No more politics. 

Pitt comes to the House of Commons.  He issues a call to arms.  Napoleon must be stopped.  And now, Fox comes to tell Pitt that he is on his side and will work with him.  The King will send for Pitt.  Pitt says:  "Very well."

Pitt goes to see the King at the beach.  He tells George III that they will need a lot of money to fight Napoleon. 

Volunteers start coming from everywhere to serve in the armed force.  Fox even becomes a private in the volunteers. 

Pitt is still sick, but pushes on.  He overworks himself.  And he drinks a lot more. 

The British watch the French build-up of men and supplies readying for an invasion of Britain.  Pitt calls on Admiral Nelson again.  Nelson sails into action.  And action is what he finds alright. 

News arrives of the death of Admiral Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805. 

Pitt has to stay in bed for awhile.  The doctor says he's more than a sick man. 

Billy has to get up.  As he travels in his carriage, once more he hears loud cheers for him.  A dinner is held in his honor.  He thanks the Mayor for the honor and says:  "Europe is not to be saved by any single man.  England has saved herself by her exertions and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example."


O.k. movie about the young Mr. Pitt, a dove toward America in the American Revolution and British prime minister during the Napoleonic era.  This film was used as a morale booster for British troops during WWII. 

Robert Donat (as William Pitt the Younger / The Earl of Chatham) and Robert Morley (as Charles James Fox) gave great performances in the film.  


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background: 

1708  --  birth of William Pitt the Elder, an important Whig politician.

1759  --  birth of William Pitt the Younger in in the village of Hayes, Kent, England.   

1760  --  death of George II.

1766-1768  --  William Pitt the Elder, Prime Minister of Great Britain. 

1769  --  birth of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

1770-1782  --  reign of Prime Minister Lord North, a Whig.   He led Great Britain through most of the American War of Independence.

1778  --  death of William Pitt the Elder. 

1781--  Pitt the Younger becomes a member of the House of Commons. 

1783-1801  --  reign of Mr. Pitt as the Prime Minister.

1801-1804  --   reign of the new Prime Minister, Henry Addington.

1804-1806  --  for the second time, William Pitt the Younger is the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

1806  --  William Pitt dies, probably from peptic ulceration of his stomach or duodenum.


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