Playing a barrister or a lawyer seems like a type of role that an actor will play at least sometime in their life, or perhaps they should given the nature of the profession. That of a showman in a certain sense, though with that with a specific intention that isn't entertainment but rather persuasion. This grants a performer a unique challenge, but also opportunity to essentially create a method of their own to fulfill this unique need. It is then with much appreciation that I find the underrated Robert Donat in such a role. Robert Donat enters into the film near the middle point of the film as the boy's father Arthur Winslow (Cedric Hardwicke) continues to seek justice for his son who was expelled from a naval academy for an alleged theft despite receiving no trail whatsoever, despite so many being against with his main support coming from his free spirited feminist daughter Catherine (Margaret Leighton). Sir Robert initially appears as just a potential barrister, who may not even have much of an interest in the case as he seems more concerned with his upcoming dinner appointment as he arrives to meet the family. Donat is particularly good at seeming indifferent with a certain calm that is so very suitable to that the sincere face of his. Donat presents a man though especially calm in this state which will soon mean far more than indifference as it can initially be misinterpreted as.
Before Sir Robert leaves, he interrogates the boy himself though in the manner of the prosecutor rather than the boy's prospective defense. Donat is mesmerizing in the scene as he plays it as essentially Sir Robert switching onto barrister mode. Donat is fantastic as he commands every moment with his still gentle in terms of his accent, yet now fierce in his pointed delivery, as Sir Robert goes about weeding the truth out of the situation. Donat's method of intensity is particularly effective as he brings so much ease within it yet with such palatable determination as well. There is overarching calm command in his demeanor as he makes it wholly convincing that he not only "breaks" the boy as he does, but also manages to grasp the situation through his approach. My favorite moment of this though is perhaps when Sir Robert is finished, and instantly switches back to the seemingly disinterested tardy diner. In this Donat reveals his approach within the part which is to play Sir Robert as a man who very much reserves his energy only to what it is absolutely pivotal to do so, while the rest of the time presenting the man of a strict ease and grace. This is not to say either are static though, however this setup is rather effective for Donat in terms of developing the personal power of the barrister.
Sir Robert out of court Donat does not show as someone you ignore still rather actually reveals his own persuasive ability even within this state. Donat in his calm delivery though finds its own incisiveness however he realizes this through a very dry wit. What's so wonderful in these moments is how presents the way Sir Robert is not phased in these moments. Donat's manner captures this inherent power through this as exudes the presence of man so assured within himself, and his own ability that he need not "show off". This makes it most dynamic then when we do so a more overt expression from Donat's performance. This is of course in the courtroom scenes where Donat delivers the more direct passion as you'd expect, with the right persuasive flavor within the appropriate potency in every word. Again Donat doesn't exactly break in either rather nearly weaponizes the character's emotions in a way, by essentially revealing the more direct emotion only when it is most useful. My favorite moment within this idea through Donat's performance actually comes not in grandiose speech, but rather a single gesture. That being when parliament speaks against giving the Winslow boy a proper trial by stating public safety should overcome individual rights. Donat says nothing, only closes a book, yet his reaction captures in a moment the severity of Sir Robert's conviction, and you can feel the outrage in the man even without muttering a single phrase.
Donat creates such a dynamic force in the film, and enlivens every scene through his captivating turn. Although Sir Robert doesn't have a major arc, Donat also excels in the bit we are granted of one. This largely being his own investment into the case, which is more obvious in the courtroom scenes, however Donat also has some wonderfully low key moments as he projects a growing empathy in the man's eyes as he explains his ongoing support of their endeavor. This is just a light touch, yet just another facet that Donat so effortlessly realizes in his performance. Donat's performance absolutely amplifies the material at every turn even when the material itself is perhaps imperfect. This comes in the final scene of the film where it attempts to insinuate a possible romance between the daughter Catherine and Sir Robert. An unneeded scene perhaps, however I can almost forgive it for how well it is executed by Donat and Leighton. The moment being that of playful banter as Catherine comments how little Sir Robert knows women when asking if she has dropped her feminist endeavors, to which Robert counters how little she knows men when she doubts the two will ever see each other again. Donat's delivery of the line is again filled with such a cool wit, but also his reaction is downright swoon worthy to be honest with the charm he infuses into the moment. It's a great moment due to Donat's performance, which is representation of the work he delivers in this film giving one of his best performances by never wasting an instance of potential within the part.