Five months later, it’s a hot day in June and has been almost two years since Ronnie was expelled. The telephone rings incessantly. Dickie enters the room, looking hot and flustered. He's wearing a neat suit with a tie and a stiff collar. He shouts for Grace, and receiving no reply also shouts for Violet.
Rattigan cleverly spaces each act from the other by a period of months to emphasize the long passage of time that has gone by. This helps create the sense of the case being grueling and unrelenting. Dickie has evidently just returned from somewhere and is dressed more smartly than a few months ago. The ringing phone signals that the press intrusion is at its peak.
With nobody around, Dickie picks up the phone. It’s a journalist from the Daily Mail, who quizzes Dickie about his life and his thoughts on the trial. Dickie tries to stay tight-lipped, saying Ronnie is just a normal boy. He tells the reporter that he’s only just arrived from Reading, where he works in a bank. He nervously says his brother never washes, and then, realizing that sounds bad, says that he does sometimes.
Dickie took the job at the bank his father mentioned earlier. He knows it’s risky to speak to the press, and is trying not to, but the journalist on the other end of the phone is clearly skillful at getting him to talk. Fortunately for him, what he says is fairly harmless, though the experience clearly makes him nervy.
Dickie puts the phone down, which immediately starts ringing again. Grace comes in and greets Dickie, complimenting his new suit. According to Grace, the phone hasn’t stopped for four days. Dickie tells her he had to fight his way through an “army of reporters” to get in the house.
The media attention has become so intense that the phone never stops ringing. The house is also surrounded by reporters, further reflecting the intense pressure on the case.
Dickie jokingly pretends that he told the reporter on the phone that he thinks Ronnie is guilty, much to Grace’s momentary horror. He asks her how it’s been going. She says she’s been in the court for four days straight but hardly understood a word. She answers the phone and just says that nobody is in, putting it straight back down.
Grace isn’t invested in the case like Arthur and Catherine, so probably doesn’t pay close attention to proceedings at court. That said, in light of Dickie’s earlier “wisdom” to Catherine that she should dumb down her intellect, perhaps Grace, as a more “traditionalist” woman, is doing the very same.
Grace calls Arthur in from the garden for lunch. Dickie asks if there will be room for him at the court. Grace says yes, and how exciting it all is: “you never saw such crowds in your life.” She says even though she doesn’t understand Sir Robert and the Crown’s representative’s technical arguments, the fact that they are so heated makes it compelling viewing.
Though Grace doesn’t understand the legal side of the case, she seems to enjoy its spectacle: the case makes for a dramatic and compelling spectacle. Clearly, from Dickie’s question, they expect the case to go on still for a while.
Dickie asks how Ronnie did as a witness. Grace says that Ronnie—“the poor little pet”—felt that two days being examined by the Attorney-General (the Crown’s representative) was easier than two minutes interrogation at the hands of Sir Robert.
Grace is always calling Ronnie by pet names, reflecting her motherly instinct to protect him (but also to treat him as a child). Grace shows that Sir Robert’s interrogation of Ronnie in Act 2 had a profound effect on him, scaring him to his core but perhaps also preparing him for what he was to face in court.
Dickie asks how Kate (Catherine) is; he has heard that John has broken off their engagement. Grace responds you can never tell with Catherine—“she never lets you know what she is feeling.”
Rattigan masterfully makes most of the key plot points happen off-stage. In this case, the resolution of the Catherine/John question has taken place in the gap between Acts. This shifts the emphasis in Act 3 to Catherine’s attitude towards her split with John, rather than the “action” of them actually splitting up. Grace continues to paint Catherine as a “different” kind of woman from her: less emotional and less open.
Arthur comes in through the garden door, walking badly. Grace tells him off for coming up the stairs by himself. Arthur gets into a wheelchair and apologizes to Dickie for his new and “ludicrous form of propulsion.” Arthur tells Dickie that he has heard from his banking friend that Dickie is doing well in his new role.
Arthur’s health has declined even further, also in the time passage between the acts. He’s now wheelchair-bound and is embarrassed by the displaying what he sees as an obvious sign of weakness—something that further contrasts with the air of authority he displayed in earlier acts.
Arthur has also heard that Dickie has joined the volunteer reserve force of the British Army. Dickie says it’s because he’s heard “there’s a fair chance of a scrap quite soon,” and he doesn’t want it to be all over before he can get involved. He says he can always go back to the bank afterwards.
World War I looms closer on the horizon, putting the Winslows’ legal fight into context. On the hand, it could be seen as trivial given the horrific warfare that is to come; on the other, if the case is taken as a genuine defense of universal values, it could be perceived as being a defense of humanity more generally. Dickie displays an attitude common at the time: that war will be fun, give meaning to aimless young men, and be over quickly.
The telephone rings again. Arthur picks it up and immediately puts it down. Grace says that he shouldn’t do that as it annoys the exchange. Arthur complains that Catherine is late and criticizes Grace’s choice of outfit, saying it’s more suited to a theatre performance than a court case.
Arthur criticizes Grace’s outfit because he sees it as trivializing the grand importance of the court case. The constant ringing of the telephone serves as a kind of aural irritant, demonstrating the incessant pressure on the Winslows.
Arthur asks Grace if his lunch is ready. She’s made him salad as the cook and Violet are at the trial. Dickie says he thought Violet was going to be dismissed, but Grace says neither she nor Arthur have had the courage to tell her; Arthur counters he does have the courage and will break the news to Violet. Grace tells him that he mustn’t until the time is right. Arthur complains to Dickie: “These taunts of cowardice are daily flung at my head; but should I take them up I’m forbidden to move in the matter. Such is the logic of women.”
Violet has still not been dismissed from her duties. Arthur again positions himself as superior in knowledge and virtue than Grace simply because he is a man and she is a woman. He doesn’t like to be thought of as cowardly—that is, “unmanly.” Grace, meanwhile, is more emotionally attuned to the potentially disastrous consequences for Violet’s life.
Arthur goes into the dining room; Dickie closes the door after him. With concern, Dickie asks Grace about Arthur’s health. She informs him that Arthur has promised to go into a nursing home after the trial, though she doesn’t really believe him. She says at least Catherine and Sir Robert managed to convince him to stay away from the court.
Because of the stress of the case, Arthur hasn’t even been able to visit the court to watch proceedings. The fact that Dickie asks Grace about his health shows that Arthur is unlikely to be honest about how far it has deteriorated; he’s too proud.
Dickie offers his sympathies to Grace. She says Arthur doesn’t care what she thinks and never has, but that she’s given up worrying—it’s her job to “pick up the pieces.”
The case has really taken its toll on Grace. She feels in a sense that something has already been irretrievably lost, and has an attitude of resignation (whereas earlier she was at least a bit more combative when it came to presenting her thoughts).
Catherine comes in, complaining of the heat and the reporters outside. She hugs Dickie, and says she thinks the judge is against the Winslows. According to her, Sir Robert is worried about the case’s outcome. Apparently, the Attorney-General made a speech that implied that a verdict for Ronnie would be a damnation of the navy and cause “jubilation” in Germany.
This shows how much notoriety the case has gained: Ronnie is blamed by the opposition for putting the country at risk by distracting the navy. The stakes could not get any higher. It’s also worth noting that Catherine’s first comment in this act is to do with the case, not her split from John.
Arthur appears at the dining-room door, still in his chair. He tells Catherine she is late. She says it’s because there was such a huge crowd both inside and outside the court—Grace seems pleased to hear the crowd is even bigger than the day before.
Arthur relies on Catherine for up-to-date information about the case, and expects it delivered at the earliest opportunity. He is physically distanced from the case by his ill health. Grace again shows that the drama and theatre of the case are intoxicating. It’s clear that the entire country is now invested in the outcome.
Catherine informs Arthur that Sir Robert did a great job examining the witness who identified Ronnie as the thief. Without bullying her or frightening her, he managed to find numerous inconsistencies in her story. Catherine thinks that will have offset the damage done by the Attorney-General’s speech.
Sir Robert is clearly in his element, doing to the witness what he did earlier to Ronnie. This shows how much the outcome depends on his skill, as opposed to any easily attainable “truth.”
Catherine says she saw John in court—Grace is horrified and hopes Catherine didn’t speak to him. But John had wished Catherine good luck, which Grace thinks is outrageous and “cold-blooded.” Arthur warns Grace she will be late for the resumption of court. She makes him promise to finish his lunch.
Catherine doesn’t have the headspace to be angry at John—it’s all about the case for her. Arthur wants his family to be present for every moment of the case so that he, through them, doesn’t miss anything. Grace’s instruction to him to finish his lunch shows that he is undergoing the shift from being the dominant head of the family to being dependent on help from others.
Grace and Dickie leave for court. Arthur asks Catherine if they are going to lose—they both know it’s their last chance. He asks what Sir Robert thinks, and wonders whether Catherine was right to doubt the barrister. She says they “couldn’t have had a better man.” At least, he’s the best at his job and seems like he genuinely wants to win; she hasn’t changed her mind about anything else she previously said about his personal qualities, though.
Catherine’s attitude towards Sir Robert is starting to become more favorable. But she still sees him as “good at his job” rather than “good as a person.” This moment makes clear that she’s nevertheless coming around to him.
Arthur read in the papers that proceedings began earlier with Sir Robert telling the judge he felt he was getting ill. Catherine says that was just a trick to get him the sympathy of the jurors and the judge. Or, she says hesitatingly, to give him an excuse if he loses. Arthur asks if she likes him—she says she neither likes nor dislikes him, but admires him.
This moment offers further development of Catherine’s complicated feelings towards Sir Robert. She assumes that everything he does is for theatrical effect. Arthur shows that he values Catherine’s opinion.
Desmond Curry comes in through the garden door. He apologizes for arriving from the back of the house but says there were too many people out front. He wants to speak with Catherine alone, so Arthur goes to finish his lunch.
The viewer/reader already knows Desmond is in love with Catherine, so can safely presume that what’s coming is a marriage proposal.
Desmond says he has an urgent question for Catherine; he has a taxi waiting outside. She says that she already knows what the question is, and that she would like a few days to think it over. She tells him she’s grateful, much to his bewilderment. Catherine says Desmond should hurry back to his taxi. He asks her if she’s always known that he loves her, to which she says yes.
Catherine flips Desmond’s hurriedness on its head; she knows what he’s here for and is impatient to get it over with. She takes control of the situation and stops herself having to listen to his actual proposal. Naturally, this comes as a surprise to Desmond who has been working up to this moment.
Desmond says they should examine two facts: one, that Catherine doesn’t love him and never will; two, that he loves her and will never stop. After an awkward pause, she thanks him for making “everything much clearer.”
This is certainly not the most romantic proposal ever made. Desmond is implicitly arguing that marriage is a functional union that is potentially beneficial to both parties even if they don’t actually want to be together.
Catherine changes the subject to Sir Robert, whom they agree is a strange and brilliant man. Once again, Catherine calls him “fishlike.” Desmond informs her of the secret that Sir Robert turned down the role of Lord Chief Justice—the most prestigious job in British law—to continue working on the case. He says: “strange are the ways of men are they not?” Desmond then leaves.
Catherine continues to see Sir Robert as something as other than human. While at first this was a criticism, she is definitely developing a more favorable attitude towards him. Desmond’s information shows that Sir Robert has made genuine sacrifice to work on the case. If he was just career-serving, he would have taken the new job. Desmond displays further entrenched misogyny, implying that women’s “ways” are not strange because they are inherently simpler and more basic.
Arthur opens the dining-room door and asks Catherine if he can now come in. As he enters the room, he says he is “tired of being gazed at from the street while eating my mutton, as though I were an animal from the zoo.”
Catherine says she has been a fool; Arthur waits for her to say why, but she doesn’t. Then he asks what Desmond wanted. She says Desmond wanted to marry her. Arthur assumes that she didn’t accept; he hopes that wasn’t what she was referring to about being a fool.
Arthur doesn’t think Desmond is worthy of Catherine. Clearly, something is on Catherine’s mind.
Catherine asks if it would be such “folly” to marry Desmond. Arthur thinks it would be lunacy. She says that he’s “nice” and that she is approaching thirty. Arthur says that being thirty isn’t the end of life, but Catherine says it might be for “an unmarried woman, with not much looks.” Arthur says it’s “better far to live and die an old maid than marry Desmond.”
Arthur here takes an attitude surprising to his earlier comments about women. Essentially, he’s saying to Catherine that it should be up to her, and that she shouldn’t feel pressured into being married. Catherine feels like she is an approaching an age at which to not be married would cast her as a societal outsider.
Arthur tells Catherine that he is bequeathing everything to her and Grace. There’s still a “little left” of his money, he says. He asks if she has taken his advice and demanded a salary from the Suffrage Association. She has, but it’s hardly anything. He says she’ll have to think of something else to do.
Catherine can’t get paid well for her role in the Suffrage movement, because the money and power in society are controlled by men. Arthur maintains his role as financial provider, but notably bequeaths his money to the women in his life, rather than his sons.
Catherine asks if Arthur thinks the work she does for Suffrage is useful. He remains silent. She says he might be right, but it’s the only work she’s fitted for. She believes she faces a choice: marry Desmond and be comfortable or go on being broke fighting for a “hopeless cause.” Arthur is surprised to hear his daughter call the cause “hopeless” for the first time.
Catherine feels she has to choose between principles and practicality—life would be easier if she just married Desmond, even though she doesn’t have an ounce of desire for him. Arthur does not feel the Suffrage movement is a noble cause, reflecting the misogyny of the time despite his clear admiration for his daughter. Or, perhaps, he believes that however noble, the cause will never succeed. Of course, only a few years after the time period of the play, women would get the vote after all—suggesting that Catherine’s continued dedication to her work has in fact helped society progress.
Catherine says John told her he’s getting married to someone else next month. Apparently he was very apologetic, which Arthur thinks is ridiculous. He asks if John is in love with the new woman. Catherine answers “no more than he was with me.” She says he’s marrying so soon after their split because he thinks there’s going to be a war. John’s father also approves—the new woman is a general’s daughter.
John has moved on quickly, showing that he wasn’t that committed to Catherine in the first place (and perhaps cementing the foresight of her decision to commit to the case rather than their relationship). Furthermore, he’s gone for a new woman who will undoubtedly please his father, showing how much influence the Colonel exerts on him. Catherine continues to display her outward indifference to the question of love, perhaps putting on a brave face.
Arthur slowly takes Catherine’s hand in his. He asks her if he’s messed up her life. She says no—she’s responsible. Arthur apologizes, but Catherine tells him they both knew what they were doing. Arthur says that it seems their motives have both been different all along—“can we both have been right?” She says she thinks that, yes, they can.
Arthur doesn’t spell out what their supposedly different motives are, yet it’s fair to say that he sees his commitment to the case as noble defense of his son’s moral integrity; Catherine, on the other hand, sees it as about universal human rights. These two, as she points out, are not incompatible.
Arthur says that maybe they’ve just been stubborn—that’s what Grace thinks. Catherine agrees that it’s a possibility. But perhaps stubbornness isn’t “such a bad quality in the face of injustice,” says Arthur; or “in the face of tyranny,” adds Catherine. Neither of them thinks they would have done anything differently. He kisses her head and thanks her.
Perhaps it takes stubbornness to fight against injustice and tyranny, suggest Arthur and Catherine. This moment shows that the two characters are truly on each other’s side and is a rare moment of intimacy. It also further imbues Ronnie’s minor case with a much broader philosophical and moral resonance.
Arthur and Catherine can hear the shout of a newsboy outside. He’s calling out “Winslow Case Result!” Catherine thinks there must be some mistake.
At this point Arthur and Catherine still think there is a long way to go with the case.
Violet bursts into the room with a big smile on her face. Apparently just after lunch—when none of the family was actually there—the Winslows won the case. She describes jubilant scenes; Sir Robert was in tears and the jury jumped over the box to congratulate him and shake his hands.
Violet continues in her role as bringer of information. This news comes as a genuine shock to Arthur and Catherine. The scene Violet describes shows the sheer outpouring of emotion that comes with the Winslow victory. But that emotion comes mostly from people outside of the family, like the jurors, again pointing to the broader social resonance of the case.
Violet says to Arthur that he must be pleased—she’d always said it would work out. He is pleased, he says. She says that sometimes he thought he and Catherine had been wasting their time—but they wouldn’t have felt that if they’d been there, that’s for sure.
Arthur doesn’t know how to react to the sudden news of victory. Violet essentially describes how he ought to feel, but his verbal utterances of agreement don’t sound convincing. He has been denied the experience of the moment of release—he wasn’t able to be at court to actually witness the victory himself.
Violet exits the room. Arthur says to Catherine that it appears they’ve won. She breaks down in tears and cries into her father’s lap. He says he would liked to have been there.
It “appears” they have won because neither of them was there to witness the moment. But why should it matter if they have succeeded in upholding principles? This reminds the reader that there is definitely pride at stake for Arthur; if he could have been there to feel the grandeur of victory it would be more real to him.
Violet enters again, announcing the arrival of Sir Robert. He walks into the room “calmly and methodically,” and says he thought Arthur might like to hear the Attorney-General’s conceding statement which he’s written down on a scrap of paper. It absolves Ronnie of any wrongdoing. He folds the paper up and gives it to Arthur.
In terms of lived experience for him, all Arthur’s victory amounts to is a scrap of paper. This is Rattigan’s way of saying that, though victory has been won, it is up to the reader/viewer to decide if it has been worth it.
Arthur thanks Sir Robert, saying it is hard for him to find the right words. Sir Robert says they can take the “rather tiresome and conventional expressions of gratitude for granted.” He wants to apply pressure to the First Lord in order to help Arthur get back some of the damages and costs of the case. Arthur says: “please, sir—no more trouble—I beg. Let the matter rest here.” He holds the piece of paper and says that it is all he has ever asked for.
Sir Robert revels in avoiding the usual formalities. He wants to go on pursuing the case and claw some of Arthur’s money back, but Arthur doesn’t have the energy. This is the first time the two characters diverge in what they want. When Arthur says, “let the matter rest,” it’s as much to himself as it is to Sir Robert.
Sir Robert turns to Catherine and says it was a pity she wasn’t in court. He says the handwriting expert had been discredited and that that had won them the case. Violet comes back in and tells Arthur that the reporters at the front door would like a statement from him.
Sir Robert, too, has developed a fondness for Catherine. This isn’t explored much further, but implies an underlying mutual attraction perhaps based on both of their willingness to make personal sacrifices and commitment to causes beyond themselves.
Catherine begins to wheel Arthur to the door, but he protests that he wants his stick—he refuses to meet the press in his “ridiculous chariot.” He tries out some different phrases with Catherine and Sir Robert as he figures out what to say in his statement. He says maybe he should just say what he feels which is “Thank God we beat ‘em.” He exits.
Arthur does not want to suffer the embarrassment of displaying physical weakness in public and so insists on standing up when makes his statement. Standing is a more dominant position and he wants to be seen as commanding and strong.
Sir Robert asks Catherine if he could have a little whiskey. She goes into the dining-room to get some. While she’s out of the room, Sir Robert droops his shoulders wearily and sits in the chair. He sits up straight when she comes back in.
This is the one moment in the play in which the reader/viewer has more information than the characters on stage. They way Sir Robert visibly slumps when nobody is watching him shows that he is very conscious of the way that he comes across, and that his stern air is in part an act. When Catherine comes back in, he wants to seem strong again—but is too tired to stand.
Catherine says she has both a confession and an apology to make to him, neither of which Sir Robert thinks is necessary. She insists and tells him that she misjudged his attitude to the case. He accepts her gratitude but says that his attitude has been the same as hers: to win.
Catherine wants to make clear her change of heart towards Sir Robert. He continues with his line of wanting to avoid emotional conversation, though he has just displayed an element of vulnerability to the viewer/reader.
Catherine says she knows that Sir Robert has made great sacrifices for the case (i.e. the Chief Justice role). He says the robes wouldn’t have suited him and angrily tells her he will have Desmond expelled from the Law Society. He asks her never to tell anyone what she knows.
Catherine isn’t supposed to know about Sir Robert’s Chief Justice job offer. He is angry about it because he knows that it will not be perceived well if people know that he rejected it, which is why he swears her to secrecy.
Catherine asks Sir Robert why he is so keen to stop people knowing about him. He says it’s “perhaps because I do not know the truth about myself.” She says that is no answer; he lightly accuses her of cross-examining him. Why, she asks, is he so “ashamed” of his emotions? He says to fight a case on emotional grounds would guarantee defeat.
Catherine tries to delve deeper into Sir Robert’s character, something he is not used to. His reply is telling: perhaps he is so wrapped in his constant performance as an almost super-human barrister that he has forgotten who he is. He thinks that emotion and “Right” are separate entities, but the public reaction at the Winslows’ victory clearly shows that they are more entwined than he would like to believe. Furthermore, the reader/viewer gets the impression that it’s not that he doesn’t feel emotion—it’s that he actively suppresses it.
If Sir Robert is so anti-emotion, Catherine follows up, then why did he weep in court earlier? He suspects Violet of telling her and says it will be all over the papers tomorrow. He grudgingly admits that he wept because “right had been done.”
Sir Robert doesn’t want to look vulnerable in front of Catherine. He believes that emotion is a woman’s domain, and that justice is a man’s. But the truth is that he was emotionally invested the victory, showing that he feels more than he is willing to admit to himself.
Catherine asks whether Sir Robert means “right” as opposed to “justice.” He thinks it easy to do “justice” but hard to “right.” The former is intellectual while the latter induces tears. He then asks Catherine if he can “leave the witness box.”
Catherine is cross-examining Sir Robert, and he’s not used to being on the receiving end; he doesn’t like it. The distinction between “right” and “justice” isn’t really clear; probably, he equates “justice” with legal victory, but “right” with something deeper and more fundamental to humanity at large.
Mischievously, Sir Robert asks Catherine why she doesn’t abandon the “lost cause of women’s suffrage” and work in the law courts. She says she doesn’t believe it is a lost cause. He says that he hopes to catch a glimpse of her at parliament some day, wearing her hat in the public gallery.
Sir Robert doesn’t extend his views on what’s “right” to an agreement with Catherine about the need for women’s suffrage and equality. That said, he clearly admires her tenacity and strength of will. In those, she has more in common with him than he is able to realize. But he still feels a woman’s place is as a spectator, while the men do the important work involved in administering power and preserving “right.”
Ronnie comes in and apologizes to Sir Robert, saying he didn’t know anything was going to happen. He was at the cinema. He asks if they won.
Ronnie has almost disappeared from the play by this point—he is quite possibly the character least bothered by the case’s proceedings. This both shows that the case is about much more than him and questions whether Arthur, Catherine, and Sir Robert’s sacrifices and commitment were worth it.
Sir Robert tells Ronnie that they were victorious. He asks Catherine whether he will, then, see her at the parliament one day. She says he will—but she won’t be in the public gallery. Catherine says she’ll be there in the same capacity as him—across the floor as a member of the opposite political party. Smiling faintly as he turns to leave, he says: “Perhaps. Goodbye.”
Sir Robert, for all his positive traits, simply cannot imagine Catherine as an equal. Yet he is drawn to her because, in reality, she has qualities similar to his: strength of will, principled commitment, and a fighting spirit. She ends the play arguing for her equality, but the last words go to Sir Robert. This reinforces that, at this point in time, it’s men that have the power. Even so, the reader/viewer senses that Catherine’s vision is not beyond the realms of possibility at all. Indeed, audiences would be aware that just a few years later, women would go on to get the right to vote that she so vehemently fought for.