Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Bette Davis:
and Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth:
No, she was not ancient and at the end of her career when she filmed this movie. She is just wearing scary make-up so that we can tell that her character is much much older than Lord Essex, her not-so-secret lover, with whom she battles throughout the movie. Unfortunately, I found Bette Davis's make-up to be so distracting that I spent a lot of the movie pondering what the real Elizabeth looked like and speaking to the television to tell Elizabeth things like, "Sweetheart, if you just did your make-up like Olivia deHavilland, you wouldn't have to worry about Essex thinking you're old."

One of the DVD features taught me that Bette Davis and Errol Flynn did NOT get along during the filming of this movie. That made perfect sense to me, since my next most frequent comments, after those having to do with the make-up, had to do with the lack of chemistry between Elizabeth and Essex (Flynn), who are supposed to be madly in love. Of course the DVD feature then went on to say that they had great chemistry on screen. I don't agree, and the lack of chemistry made it really hard for me to enjoy this movie, despite loving the actors and having been really excited to see it. Alas.

This movie did spawn an exciting series of Wikipedia searches. Having read The Other Boleyn Girl earlier this year, I wanted to know exactly where all of the action in the movie fit in with the "history" I knew from the book. Much more interesting than remembering exactly how many monarchs came between Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth, however, was learning that there was an Ethelwulf, an Ethelbald, and even an... Ethelred the Unready, my personal favorite. One could really get lost in Wikipedia. Look here for the fascinating list of English monarchs:

One star for Bette Davis, because she is just a great actress, no matter the role. One more star for Olivia deHavilland. And an honorable mention for the amazingly creative and bizarre mechanical staircase leading into Elizabeth's throne room in the tower, through which Essex is led for his last meeting with Elizabeth before his execution. Barbara says, "I don't remember that from the tour." I really don't think I could watch this movie again.

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