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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Royal entertainment, 1 Feb 2008
By 
Trevor Willsmer (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex [1939] (DVD)
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex may have been the set from hell - Bette Davis despised Errol Flynn, who hated director Michael Curtiz while Olivia De Havilland was given a thankless supporting role as Jack Warner's way of keeping her in her place after the success of Gone With the Wind - but it turned out rather splendidly. Offering Hollywood rather than history, and with all the glories that only the studio system at its peak could offer, it's grand entertainment. Glorious Technicolor cinematography from Sol Polito, lavish production design from Anton Grot that would be reused in Flynn's version of The Sea Hawk and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's triumphant score are all just the icing on the cake.

With just a few bleak depictions of Essex's disastrous Irish campaign, there's not much in the way of swashbuckling: the emphasis here is on doomed romance between two people drawn to each other by the very things that keep them apart. Flynn's charismatic but egotistical and fatally overambitious Essex, whose popularity is never matched by the reality of his (under)achievements, is one of many thwarted suitors who attempted to wear the crown by wooing the woman while she was equally determined not to be ruled by weaker men. It's her power that appeals to him and his carefree short-sighted irresponsibility that attracts her, but though Davis' bitter Elizabeth may try to grab a few moments of happiness with him, she's all too aware that for her to surrender to a husband would be to abdicate all power and doom England to disastrous rule. The tragedy comes from the fact that he's all too aware of his own weaknesses, but too proud to conquer them or even to save himself when offered the chance - something of a change from the usual Errol Flynn hero. But then this is not exactly a typical Flynn film: for all his charm and bravado, Elizabeth is the real focus of the film. And while many of the Flynn film regulars are present and correct, most are playing very different roles. De Havilland is less-than-sympathetic for once as the lady-in-waiting taunting the queen over her lost youth, Alan Hale appears as Flynn's enemy rather than his sidekick for a change, while even Donald Crisp's usual onscreen integrity is discreetly tucked away lest it interfere with his own ambitions at court when the wind starts to change. Only Henry Daniell, in a virtual dress rehearsal for his role in The Sea Hawk, plays true to form as one of the plotters alongside Vincent Price's Walter Raleigh.

As history it's bunk, but as a doomed romance, complete with a memorably tragic final encounter, it's absolutely engrossing. Good extras on the DVD too, though it's a shame they could only find a black and white trailer for such a magnificent Technicolor film.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hard to find bargain, 3 July 2010
By 
J. Edwards - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex [1939] (DVD)
A present for my Mum who loves these old classics, short of visiting a big HMV you won't find this in the high street, and even then it will be an extortionate price. Arrived within 3 days, happy Mum, happy me, great service.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars colourful, romantic,tragic, 11 Oct 2010
This review is from: The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex [1939] (DVD)
the harbour scene is from an age of film unique.i am now wanting to see more of bette davies. what makes old films so good i think is the acting quality and story lines. special effects can mask a bad story with poor actors. these films will be watched by all culturally motivated people, but i look towards the old films for real love and tradgedy with passion and realism. these old films are special .
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The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex [1939]
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