Tag Archives: Anton Walbrook

The Anna Neagle Blogathon: Victoria The Great(1937) & Sixty Glorious Years(1938)

Anna Neagle banner 3

Anna Neagle was one of Britain’s greatest and most popular film stars. She is best remembered today for her screen collaborations with her husband – the director and producer Herbert Wilcox – and for her portrayals of several historical figures including actress Nell Gwyn and pilot Amy Johnson. 

Photo1886

Victoria prepares to be crowned Queen in Victoria The Great. Screenshot by me.

In 1937 and 1938, Anna starred in two films in which she would take on what has become her most famous screen role. She played Queen Victoria. The first film was Victoria The Great(released in the UK on the 16th of September, 1937), and the second was Sixty Glorious Years(released in the UK on the 14th of October, 1938). Both films were directed by Anna’s future husband Herbert Wilcox.

Both films were written by Miles Malleson and Charles de Grandcourt, with the then Permanent Under-Secretary Of State For Foreign Affairs Robert Vansittart, contributing dialogue for the second film. 

Victoria The Great wasn’t the first film about Queen Victoria which had been approved by the Crown – the first was the 1913 Silent film Sixty Years A Queen directed by Bert Haldane. However during the inter-war years screen depictions of this monarch were banned by her grandson King George V. In 1937(the 100th anniversary of Victoria’s ascension to the throne)that ban was overturned. 

At the time of the first film going into production the British Monarchy was in crisis. In December 1936, King Edward VIII had chosen love over crown and duty, and had abdicated from the throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Victoria The Great can therefore be seen as a brilliant piece of PR to try and help secure the image of the British royal family as devoted individuals living only for their duties to the people and nation, as well as also celebrating the life of the then longest-reigning British Monarch. 

                     Screenshots from Victoria The Great and Sixty Glorious Years by me.

When I first heard about these two films I assumed that the first would focus on Victoria’s childhood and the early years of her reign, while the second would focus on her marriage and the rest of her reign. What’s weird about these films is that that isn’t the case at all. 

Photo1927

A happy moment for the Queen and her husband Prince Albert. Screenshot by me.

Victoria The Great follows the eighteen year old Victoria from the moment she is told she is now the new ruler of England. We see her coronation, her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert(wonderfully played by Anton Walbrook), and see many key events from her personal life and reign. The film is shot in black and white, but features a stunning Technicolor finale depicting the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. 

Although both films do focus on Victoria’s royal duties and her public life, it’s fair to say that the main focus is on the relationship between Victoria and Prince Albert. The pair were deeply in love and Victoria was extremely dependent on her husband and always looked to him for advice. Albert in turn did what he could to ease his wife’s burdens and try and allow her to be a wife and mother as much as a Queen. Both Anna and Anton do a superb job of capturing the passion these two had for each other. Anna and Anton have real chemistry and are so tender with one another.  There are some lovely moments between the two in this first film. I especially love the scene where they are both sitting under a tree on the palace grounds. I also love the scene where Albert comforts his wife following the assassination attempt on her life. 

Photo1887

Victoria in Technicolor in Sixty Glorious Years. Screenshot by me.

Sixty Glorious Years differs to the first film by being shot entirely in Technicolor and filmed on location at various royal palaces. The second film has an almost identical structure to the first. Sixty Glorious Years plays out to me like a collection of extended or deleted scenes from the first film. To make two films so similar to each other in the space of a year is a strange decision to say the least. I can’t understand why Herbert Wilcox didn’t just make one film of between say three and a half to four hours long which covered Victoria’s whole life and reign. He could have shot it all in Technicolor too in order to create a real spectacle for audiences. 

Photo1931

Victoria and Albert watch the Highland Games. Screenshot by me.

I do like that there is more focus on Victoria and Albert’s relationship and their children in the second film than in the first though. It’s also nice to see so many scenes in the second being filmed in and around the real royal palaces and gardens. It’s also nice to be able to see all of Tom Heslewood and Doris Zinkeisen’s beautiful costumes in colour too. 

Photo1930

Discussing the building of the Crystal Palace exhibition. Screenshot by me.

While both films are very good and enjoyable, they each have too much of an episodic format for my taste. Instead of focusing deeply on Victoria’s life and reign we are presented instead with the highlights. The films also never really scratch the surface of Victoria to enable us to learn more about the real woman. Queen Victoria has always struck me as being extremely interesting from a psychological perspective. She had a deeply unhappy and restrictive childhood under the thumb of her mother and Sir John Conroy; then she had a few brief years where she and she alone held all the power in her life and she became a stronger and more confident woman for it; then she married and bore nine children, which left her unable to be as independent as she had just started to become. When you read about her attitudes to her children, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that the Queen suffered from postnatal depression following her children’s births. Both films also only show us the briefest glimpse of how tempestuous Victoria and Albert’s relationship could be; they loved each other very much indeed, but things were not always easy between them. 

Photo1888

Anna Neagle shines as Victoria. Screenshot by me.

Anna shines in both films. She does a great job of portraying the strong-willed Queen from vivacious and beautiful young woman, to the more severe and grief stricken woman we all immediately think of her as being.

Anna dominates each scene she appears in and you can’t take your eyes off her.She is suitably regal and strong willed as the Queen, while also capturing her girlish innocence and her vulnerable side too. 

Photo1926

Anton Walbrook as Albert. Screenshot by me.

Anton Walbrook is excellent as the loyal and hardworking Prince Albert. He makes Albert gentle, astute, tender and determined. Anton was always a subtle actor who could steal a scene with a mere look alone, and his talents for that are on full display here.

I also like how Anton managed to capture how weary and overworked Albert became in his role as Prince Consort. I also like how the films show his refusal to shut himself away and have no public life because so many at the time considered him to be nothing more than a foreigner interfering in the British government. 

I highly recommend both films to fans of Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook. If you’re after a deeper exploration of the life and reign of Victoria, then you best check out the many biographies out there about her. 

This is my entry for my Anna Neagle Blogathon being held on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2020. 

The Colours Blogathon: The Red Shoes (1948)

Colours Blogathon

Catherine over at Thoughts All Sorts is hosting this blogathon all about films that feature colours in their titles. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I’m writing about one of my all time favourite films. That film is the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger classic, The Red Shoes. This is one of the most visually stunning and beautiful films ever made in my opinion. Artistic, imaginative, romantic, absorbing, and quite moving; this film truly has something in it for everyone to enjoy.

 I would like to talk a little bit now about Powell and Pressburger themselves. The pair began working together in 1939, on the WW2 spy thriller, The Spy In Black.They founded their own production company called The Archers in 1943. Their distinctive film logo (an arrow being fired into an archery target)became as famous as the films it appeared at the beginning of.

The majority of Powell and Pressburger’s films were quite different from any other films being made at the time. Their films were visually imaginative and very impressive. These films were more like works of moving art than traditional films. The uniqueness and artistic look of their work is a major factor for me in liking their films so much. Powell and Pressburger were completely different from other filmmakers of the time, and they created films that really took you out of your own life (in a major way)for a few hours. Their films are beautiful to look at and really draw the audience in. 

Powell and Pressburger

Powell and Pressburger. Image source IMDb.

From time to time though they could also make the sort of films that the public were more used to seeing; films such as The Small Back Room, The Spy In Black and 49th Parallel. Their collaboration came to an amicable end in 1957, and they remained friends for the rest of their lives. Their films were not instantly acclaimed as classics upon release and it took several decades for them to receive praise and appreciation.

Director Martin Scorsese is a big fan of their work and he has done so much to bring their films to the attention of audiences today. Powell was also married for the last few years of his life to Scorsese’s regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.

Powell and Pressburger became famous for the use of Technicolor in their films. In The Red Shoes they once again use Technicolor to its best possible effect. They, along with their regular cinematographer Jack Cardiff, created magic and moving art on screen. Their use of colour was a big part of the unique look of so many of their films. Their colour films are so rich and vibrant, and it is the look of this particular film that lingers in the mind long after it has finished. This filmmaking managed to use Technicolor in a way that had never been done before, nor has it been achieved in films since. This team prove what filmmakers are capable of achieving should they put their minds to it. Their films are pure art and they are rightly praised and admired by film fans and filmmakers today.

Red shoes poster

Moving on to the film itself. In The Red Shoes (long before Black Swan) we are shown the sacrifices that have to be made by ballerinas for their art. They push themselves extremely hard, and for some there can be nothing else apart from the ballet in their life, they give all they are to their art. We also see that their dedication to their art can make them ill if they push themselves too hard either physically or mentally. 

The Red Shoes is based upon the fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson. It is all about a young girl who puts on a pair of red shoes. Once she does she soon finds that she cannot take them off. She also finds that they make her dance everywhere she goes. She cannot make herself even stop for a rest. In her despair she turns to a woodcutter for help, he chops off her feet to ease her suffering. As she lies in his arms,the shoes dance off still containing her feet within them. Off those shoes go, forever continuing their eternal dance around the land. Can you believe that was a children’s story? It made a big impact on me when I first read it. This story and the images it conjures up have stayed with me to this day. Some dark stuff for sure.

The film (thankfully)does not focus too much on that story. We instead focus on a young ballerina who must choose between her career with the ballet, or her own personal life and having love in that life.

Vicky Page (Moira Shearer)is a young ballet dancer who attracts the attention of Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). He is the head of world famous ballet company, The Ballet Lermontov. He sees great potential in Vicky. When his lead dancer, the adored Irina (Ludmilla Tcherina), leaves his company to get married, Lermontov gives Vicky Irina’s position in the company. Vicky finds lasting fame in the ballet community as the lead in a ballet written especially for her. That ballet is the Red Shoes, and it is based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson.

MBDRESH EC013

Vicky and Boris. Image source IMDb.

As her success and talent grows, Boris falls in love with Vicky and he is determined to keep her with him at all costs. Vicky likes and respects him but she doesn’t return his feelings, instead she falls in love with young musician Julian Craster (Marius Goring). He offers her a life away from the pressures of the ballet. Lermontov becomes jealous of the young couple, and soon Vicky finds herself forced to choose between her career and her life with Julian. It is extremely difficult for her as she loves both equally and becomes emotionally torn between them. Soon she starts to become ill from all this pressure.

Four of the films leading actors were ballet dancers at the time of the films release. Moira Shearer (playing Vicky), Robert Helpmann (playing Ivan, the much respected lead dancer of the Lermontov ballet), Ludmilla Tcherina (playing Irina) and Leonide Massine (playing Grisha, the temperamental company choreographer). Each of these get their own chance to shine in various dance sequences throughout the film. 

Red shoes 2

Vicky puts on the Red Shoes. Image source IMDb.

The standout sequence in the film is the ballet of the Red Shoes. The sequence in its entirety lasts around fifteen minutes of screen time. The sequence is one of the most artistic and absorbing sequences ever put on screen. I think it captures the beauty and artistry of ballet perfectly.

There are also several scenes in this sequence that feature bizarre and creepy images, which turn the sequence into a dark nightmare. I’m specifically thinking of the scene where begins Vicky hallucinating things from her own life during the performance (such as the shoemaker transforming into Lermontov and Julian), and of the shots of men turning into paper figures and slowly falling to the ground, as Vicky’s uncontrollable, red clad feet dance amongst their fallen, limp figures. I’ve often wondered if the fallen figures represent people in the fairytale who die, while the girl in the red shoes lives forever dancing on, and on, and on?

It’s a dazzling sequence for sure and is a perfect blend of the art of ballet and of the art of film. There is also some clever camera trickery at work in it for the moment Vicky jumps into the red shoes and they lace themselves up. This shot still impresses when viewed today.

Anton Walbrook gives the standout performance of the film for me. He is a man driven by his dedication to his work who finds himself falling unexpectedly in love. Then he starts hating himself for getting drawn away from his work by his desire for Vicky, and also for the desire for a personal life away from his work.

To Lermontov the ballet is a calling, and he despises any of his dancers who choose personal life over their ballet work. He starts to hate himself as much as he hates anyone in his company who gets distracted. Walbrook steals every scene he is in with just a look. In many scenes he can be seen seething with jealousy and a barely repressed desire for Vicky. He makes you both pity and despise Lermontov at the same time.

Moira Shearer is excellent as the young woman given the career opportunity of her life. Her initial excitement soon transitions to weariness and short temper when she is under pressure. She really brings home the struggle that Vicky is enduring concerning the choice between her private and professional life.

Marius Goring is energetic as the dedicated and outgoing composer who cannot understand Vicky and Lermontov’s obsession with the ballet. He can offer Vicky happiness, but is she willing or able to accept it? Goring was one of the best character actors in all of British cinema, here he gets quite a bit of screen time and gets a real chance to shine. It’s nice to see him in a more major role for a change.

My favourite scenes are the following. Vicky climbing the stairs to Lermontov’s villa (this sequence looks like something straight out of a fairytale, and Vicky is like a Princess in that outfit she wears and it looks like she is exploring the grounds of a deserted castle.) The ballet of The Red Shoes. Vicky and Lermontov meeting for the first time at the party and he asks her “why do you want to dance?”, she replies “why do you want to live?”  Julian and Vicky arguing during rehearsal about how she should dance during a particular music segment. The montage of Vicky and Ivan dancing in several ballet productions. Lermontov sitting in his apartment, alone, depressed and angry.

Like the fairytale upon which it’s based, this film has quite a dark edge to it and the ending is very bleak. Don’t let that put you off though, as it is truly worth watching. This film never fails to impress me and has become a real favourite over the years. It’s in my top five favourite Powell and Pressburger films too.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.