The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

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The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) Poster

A depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.


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  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Errol Flynn and Donald Crisp in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

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22 April 2005 | Doylenf
7
| New DVD version makes the film twice as compelling...fine performances...
Watching the newly restored DVD version of THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX gives this viewer a new appreciation of the lavish attention to detail in sets, costumes--and even the performances surrounding BETTE DAVIS in her showcase role as the Queen who is unwilling to let the ambitious Earl of Essex share her throne. Flynn fans won't be disappointed either. He's never looked handsomer as Lord Essex.

Davis seems unwilling to let anyone else steal the thunder from her fidgety display of histrionics. Costumed in the most brilliant array of historically correct costuming ever dreamed up by the Warner costume department, she gives a commanding display of histrionics that will fascinate even those who will undoubtedly accuse her of overacting or chewing the scenery on occasion.

And what scenery! Seldom has the lavishness of a Warner costume epic been captured by cinematographers as here. All of the courtroom scenes have the stately dignity and majesty of inspired paintings. And yet, despite all the rich atmosphere of court settings, the performances stand out as uniquely individual characterizations, thanks to Michael Curtiz's firm direction.

ERROL FLYNN, despite a few weaker scenes in the film's final moments, does a sterling job as Essex, matching Davis' fiery temperament with a strong display of courage, cunning and nobility as Essex.

OLIVIA de HAVILLAND, while demoted to a supporting role by Jack Warner (who never forgave her for outwitting him in her move to play a loan-out role as Melanie in GWTW), is breathtakingly gorgeous and shows that beneath that demure surface lurked an actress with sparks of her own to share with Davis.

The glittering supporting cast includes such stalwarts as Vincent Price (handsomely attired as Sir Walter Raleigh), Henry Stephenson, Donald Crisp--and in an uncredited role as a member of the Queen's guard, John Sutton. Notable in a small but effective scene is Nanette Fabray, at the very start of her career on screen.

Not historically accurate as far as Maxwell Anderson's legend goes (there was no romance between Elizabeth and Essex), but this is a fascinating version of his stage play, "Elizabeth the Queen".

Alan Hale does a superb job in a brief role as Tyrone (with Irish accent), cast as Errol's foe for a change. Watch the color cinematography in the marshes scene--subtle shades of pastel amid the fog shrouded swamps.

A magnificent, pulsating background score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold adds to the intrigue. The film itself is not entirely flawless--there are several scenes that move much too slowly. But all in all, it captures the court intrigue and sympathetically reveals the demands that a Queen must face when her throne is challenged by men just as ambitious (and ruthless) as she is to rule.

Director Michael Curtiz keeps things visually stirring throughout, as is his customary practice.

A final note: It cannot be emphasized enough that the new DVD version brings out all of the detailed splendor of sets, costumes and photography and makes it all the more compelling to watch. In fact, the whole viewing experience is quite different from the VHS version.

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