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.


7.1/10
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  • Errol Flynn and Donald Crisp in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
  • Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

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Reviews & Commentary

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17 June 1999 | Bob-274
10
| A stunning tour de force by Davis and Flynn.
One of my top 10 best movies of all time! This has to be Davis' best dramatic performance ever - the voice, the mannerisms, the psychological torment between Queen and woman. Never have I seen a character performance like Davis' where she literally shakes with the emotion and tension she feels! Even her eating habits are a source of fascination.

Flynn gives another dashing performance of an emotionally shallow, politically incorrect Essex - he never really quite understands just what he is dealing with until towards the very end. To Essex (and probably to Flynn too!) a woman is just a woman ready to acquiesce to her man at his whim and his detractors at court are simply disgruntled competitors for the affections of his woman. Honest and trustworthy, he has no time patience or comprehension of the treacheries of Raleigh and Cecil or the political considerations of Elizabeth.

Though the plot is quite straightforward it is the absorbing script that allows this actors' tour de force - this is one of the few movies ever where the lead characters are allowed to talk from their hearts. Davis portrays a bitingly intelligent woman in desperate need of one honest voice she can trust and depend upon in a sea of political plots and assorted self-interests. Her determination to rule her people wisely avoiding senseless wars is constantly assailed by her great doubts to continue to command respect and love of her people as she ages and must seek impartial counsel amongst a court of self-seeking, two-faced advisors. She walks the razor's edge of lonely command and tormented despair.

DeHavilland's Penelope is a pivotal character whose envy of the queen and discounting by Essex drives her to attempt to destroy their relationship but finally realises where her loyalties lie.

But the highlight of the film is the intimate exchanges between Essex and Elizabeth that bring out the very best and the very worst in each as they explore their true intentions and their boundaries. The quality of these exchanges are so good that they rival today's psychological thrillers as Elizabeth finally uncovers Essex's true ambitions. It makes you realise how few relationships today could withstand such sincere probing as to the real character of the couple. And the dramatic finale is truly heart-wrenching when Essex becomes the true unselfish hero Elizabeth has been seeking upon finally realising what he would do to England if he shared her throne and that even Elizabeth herself is prepared to sacrifice everything she holds most dear for the man she desperately loves.

They just don't write movies like this any more and it is an excellent example of a masterpiece that can never age.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

When MGM signed Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne to a movie contract in 1931, they bought the rights to "Elizabeth the Queen" as well as two of the Lunts' other stage successes, "The Guardsman" and "Reunion in Vienna." After the Lunts' first film together, The Guardsman (1931), flopped at the box office, MGM canceled the Lunts' contract, made Reunion in Vienna (1933) with other actors (John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore and Diana Wynyard), and put "Elizabeth the Queen" on hold until they later sold the rights to Warner Brothers. But a sequence of the Lunts playing the final scene from "Elizabeth the Queen" appears at the start of "The Guardsman" in a play-within-a-film context.


Quotes

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex: I would not have taken that from your father the King; much less will I take it from a king in petticoats!


Goofs

The real Robert Cecil was small and had a curved spine, and was one of Queen Elizabeth's chief counselors, not the supercilious character portrayed in this film, or in Maxwell Anderson's original play. The queen would affectionately refer to him as "my dwarf". He is more accurately portrayed in the TV miniseries Elizabeth I (2005).


Crazy Credits

The Warner Brothers shield is in the form of an English coat of arms. This logo was seen in Errol Flynn's previous film The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).


Soundtracks

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (Come Live With Me and Be My Love)
(posthumous 1599) (uncredited)
:yrics by
Christopher Marlowe
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Played on piano by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and sung by Nanette Fabray

Storyline

Plot Summary


Genres

Biography | Drama | History | Romance

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