King John (1899)

  |  Short, Drama

King John (1899) Poster

King John does whatever it takes to keep himself on the throne of England, making enemies of the pope, France, and his nephew along the way.


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Reviews & Commentary

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User Reviews

28 February 2005 | Snow Leopard
An Interesting Piece of Cinema History
While not especially detailed or action-packed, this short movie is quite an interesting piece of cinema history. It affords a look at the renowned stage actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, in what must have been his first screen role, and it is also one of the very earliest screen adaptations of classic literature. In itself, it is not bad at all for material that is not particularly well-suited for a silent movie.

The footage comes from the last scene of Shakespeare's "King John", and depicts the king (Sir Herbert) in agony, both mental and physical. It's the kind of scene that offers a stage actor some fine opportunities for dramatics and the like, but it's something of a curious choice for early movie footage, compared with some of Shakespeare's other, more action packed works. Yet at that, it does not work badly.

While Sir Herbert's style is clearly based on the stage, he nevertheless convincingly portrays King John's torment, and if you read some of John's lines while watching the footage, it fits together. Prince Henry's vain efforts to comfort his father also come across believably. The setting and background likewise are stage-like, and yet they work in adding a little detail and atmosphere.

All in all, this is worth seeing for a number of reasons.

Critic Reviews

Did You Know?


The Biograph film package was shown at The Montgomery Hall, Sheffield, England, between 8-13 April, 1901. Its first screening on Monday, 8 April, 1901, was reviewed in "The Sheffield Daily Telegraph", a Sheffield daily morning newspaper, on Tuesday, 9 April 1901, under the subheading "The Biograph At The Montgomery Hall" (this review was reprinted, identically, the same day, in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph's evening edition, then known as the "Yorkshire Telegraph & Star"). The anonymous "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" reviewer wrote:

"A new departure from the usual views was seen in portions of scenes in "King John". Here the company are treated to a glimpse of the acting of Mr Beerbohm Tree and Miss Julia Neilson".

This statement further confirms the existence of Scene Two of "King John", "The Lamentation Scene". Beerbohm Tree's 1899 production of "King John" and Julia Neilson's role in it as Constance were too well known in England by 1901 for either the Scene or its actors to be mistakenly identified. As it is highly unlikely that Scene Two and Neilson's dominant role in it would be accompanied only by one or both of Tree's last two Scenes as the dying John, it must be assumed that all four Scenes were shown at Sheffield (and on the Biograph tour), beginning with John, Hubert and Arthur in "The Temptation Scene".

The "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" review is also notable for the reviewer's opinion that the inclusion of "King John" was "a new departure", contrasting it with "the usual views". A significant number of people, from various backgrounds, who saw "King John" were aware that it was something more than merely a film of "Scenes from Mr Beerbohm's Tree's latest production".


King John: Good Hubert, Hubert, Hubert throw thine eye/ On yon boy: I'll tell thee what my friend,/ He is a very serpent in my way,/ And whereso'er this foot of mine does tread,/ He lies before me: does thou understand me?
Hubert de Burgh: And I'll keep him so,/ That he shall ...

Alternate Versions

Scene Three only [International distribution, 1899+]


Plot Summary


Short | Drama

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