The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
Hal B. Wallis for Warner Brothers
directed by Michael Curtiz
starring Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Donald Crisp, Alan Hale, Vincent Price, Henry Stephenson, Henry Daniell, James Stephenson, Nanette Fabray, Ralph Forbes, Robert Warwick, Leo G.Carroll, Guy Bellis, John Sutton, Holmes Herbert
screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine, Aeneas MacKenzie, based on the play by Maxwell Anderson, music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
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England, 1596: Queen Elizabeth (Bette Davis) is madly in love with the
Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn), and he loves her back, actually, despite the
fact that she's much older than he is - but he also wants her power, and
that makes him her enemy. And thus, even though he has proven himself a
competent army commander, she treats him like dirt. Others on her court,
like Sir Walter Raleigh (Vincent Price) and Sir Robert Cecil (Henry
Daniell) know that and want try to play Elizabeth and Essex against each
other with the help of Sir Francis Bacon (Donald Crisp), who claims to be
Essex' mentor and Elizabeth's good friend, but is actually nothing but a
treacherous turncoat. So when Essex is off on a campaign to Ireland, the
conspirators have Elizabeth's letters to Essex and Essex' letters to
Elizabeth intercepted so Essex has to think she has abandoned him and
Elizabeth is led to think he is planning a rebellion against her. As a
result, she cuts off his supply chain and orders him back, and when Essex
returns with his army to usurp the throne, she ultimately plays a trick on
him to make him give himself up, then condemns him to death, which breaks
her own heart as well.
This historically rather inaccurate
period picture is a film that's ambitious rather than actually good:
Behind the high production values, the star-studded cast and the
wonderfully eccentric performance of Bette Davis in old woman's makeup
(she was 31 when this was made, her character was 63), this film tells a
rather feeble romance that lacks depth and is populated by disappointingly
flat characters. And while Bette Davis at least is great, Errol Flynn
pales in her shadow giving a competent but hardly impressive performance
as Earl of Essex.
That said, I wouldn't classify this film as a total
trainwreck, just a bit of a disappointment.