Friday, August 28, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Victoria the Great (1937)

Decades before this year's THE YOUNG VICTORIA or other depictions of the life of the British queen, there was the 1937 British film VICTORIA THE GREAT.

VICTORIA THE GREAT stars Anna Neagle in the title role, with Anton Walbrook (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP) as Prince Albert. Neagle, who ages from lovely teenager to elderly widow in the role, captures both Victoria's regal imperiousness and her increasing devotion to Prince Albert, while Walbrook also does well as the young German prince who gradually becomes Victoria's most trusted and reliable advisor.

The first half of VICTORIA THE GREAT covers much the same ground as this year's film (reviewed here and here), and it's very interesting to compare how the two films treat many of the same incidents, whether it's Victoria being informed she has ascended to the throne, the young Queen bathing her beloved dog on Coronation Day, or an attempt on Victoria's life when she and Albert are out for a drive.

The depiction of Victoria and Albert's courtship is somewhat truncated and focuses more on their initial awkward relationship than on their romance, but that aspect comes into full bloom in the depiction of their marriage.

The film curiously skips over the birth of Victoria and Albert's firstborn child, Victoria, the Princess Royal, and goes straight to the birth of Edward, Prince of Wales; although the movie spans many years, the infant prince and later a young Princess Alice are the only two of Victoria and Albert's nine children depicted in the film. The story leaps through the decades, contenting itself with simply mentioning historic events such as Prince Albert's triumphant Great Exhibition.

The film does depict Albert's role, not long before his death, in preventing war between England and the United States as a result of the Trent Affair. After Albert's death -- the details of which are fictionalized -- the film moves on to Victoria's years in mourning, the expansion of the empire, and climaxes with her Diamond Jubilee.

Although the movie was shot in black and white, originally the final Diamond Jubilee sequence was in Technicolor; however, the DVD print I watched showed these scenes in black and white. The stirring choral music during this sequence is gorgeous and provides a fitting ending to the movie.

H.B. Warner, a regular in Frank Capra's movies, here plays Victoria's mentor, Lord Melbourne. It's interesting to compare Warner's interpretation with the more dashing version essayed by Paul Bettany in the recent film.

The cast also includes Mary Morris as the Duchess of Kent, Charles Carson as Sir Robert Peel, Walter Rilla as Prince Ernest of Coburg, Felix Aylmer as Lord Palmerston, and Gordon McLeod as John Brown.

A card at the start of the film lists many of the royal homes where the movie was filmed, but it is unclear to me whether these locations were just used for establishing shots or whether filming also took place in any of the interiors. Shots of Victoria on the balcony of Buckingham Palace seemed to have been filmed on a soundstage. The movie also filmed some of the royal coaches and a historic train.

VICTORIA THE GREAT was produced and directed by Herbert Wilcox, Anna Neagle's husband and longtime collaborator.

The DVD ran 106 minutes; IMDb gives the run time as 112 minutes and Leonard Maltin's Classic Film Guide lists 118 minutes.

The following year a Technicolor remake/sequel was released, SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS, also known in the United States as QUEEN OF DESTINY. It again starred Neagle and Walbrook as Victoria and Albert. I haven't yet seen this film but it appears to retell some of VICTORIA THE GREAT, this time with the advantage of Technicolor, while also introducing new historical characters, such as the Duke of Wellington (Sir C. Aubrey Smith), the Princess Royal (Pamela Standish), and Florence Nightingale (Joyce Bland). A side note, years later Neagle would play Nightingale herself in THE LADY WITH THE LAMP (1951).

VICTORIA THE GREAT is not available on DVD in the United States. I was able to watch the film thanks to my recently acquired "all-region" DVD player; the movie is available in Europe in the Region 2 PAL DVD format as part of the six-film Anna Neagle Collection. The other films in the set are described in a previous post.

The movie also appears to have had a U.S. videotape release from Nostalgia Home Video.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older