Fire Over England (1937)

  |  Adventure, History, Romance


Fire Over England (1937) Poster

Queen Elizabeth is running this show. The men in her court should be thinking about how to add to the glory of the Elizabethan Age and how to foil those pesky Spanish who got far too much ... See full summary »


6.6/10
1,495

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  • Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Fire Over England (1937)
  • Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Fire Over England (1937)
  • Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Fire Over England (1937)
  • Vivien Leigh in Fire Over England (1937)
  • Vivien Leigh in Fire Over England (1937)
  • Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Fire Over England (1937)

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18 August 2007 | Igenlode Wordsmith
6
| King and Queen outshine the knight
I'm afraid I was disappointed by "Fire over England", having pinned too many hopes on this film of all those in the Olivier season: based on a novel I'd loved as a child, starring Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth with names such as Raymond Massey, James Mason and Robert Newton among the supporting cast, and featuring Vivien Leigh as the real-life love interest of a Laurence Olivier described as channelling Douglas Fairbanks and John Barrymore as he does all his own stunts, what could hold more promise? Like "The Sea Hawk", it was a picture I'd heard of and had long since been waiting to see.

But great anticipation places an insuperable weight on a film. "The Sea Hawk" disappointed, and Olivier is no Flynn. The character is petulant and callow, admittedly -- but I couldn't identify with Michael emotionally (not aided by the fact that he appears to be trifling completely untroubled with the affections of two ladies at once, which deprived the love scenes of their conviction: it didn't come across as a conflict of loyalties, but as having your cake and eating it), and I found the action sequences uninspiring. The stunt dives look like belly-flops (presumably with an eye to the angle of the safety nets), the 'storm-tossed' ships wobble along with their sails obviously providing no propulsion whatsoever (would it have cost too much to have someone blow on them?), and the palace guards at the Escurial display a degree of stupidity in their pursuit that even in the context of cliché is less thrilling than ridiculous. The only moments of the Spanish adventure that worked for me at all were the double-edged dialogue at the dining table, and the 'spy' scenes with Raymond Massey.

For the true honours of this production lie not with the adolescent hero but with the ageing generation. Massey invests the workaholic, melancholic Philip of Spain with a lethally plodding efficiency that makes him truly to be feared. The quietly-weighted exchange between the older Ingolby and his friend-turned-captor holds far more emotional impact than young Michael's histrionics when he finally cottons on (about a reel later than everybody else, audience included). The Queen's relationship with her boyhood's Robin is far deeper and better-portrayed than Michael's with Cynthia, and the memorable struggle is not Laurence Olivier with a sword in his hand but Elizabeth facing the loss of her youth.

It is the grown-up drama that is worth watching here. But unfortunately this is not the main focus of the motion picture.

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