The only Academy Award winning picture for Fox Studios (in its pre-20th Century-Fox era), Cavalcade is a stately film adaptation of the pageant-like stage hit by Noel Coward. The film concentrates on the years 1901 through 1933, as seen through the eyes of an upper-class British family and its servants. Clive Brook and Diana Wynyard portray the "upstairs" Marryots, while Herbert Mundin and Una O'Connor represent the "downstairs" Bridges (the incidents and characterizations in Cavalcade are very, very close to those seen in the popular 1970s BBC series Upstairs, Downstairs). The triumphs and tragedies of both masters and servants are placed in context with the death of Queen Victoria, the Boer War, World War I, the Jazz Age, and the Depression. Both classes have their troubles with their children, what with their offsprings' predilection for opposing authority, marrying the wrong people, and dying at the least opportune moments. The film's highlight was also the most talked-about scene in the original play: newlyweds Edward Marryot (John Warburton) and Edith Harris (Margaret Lindsay), discussing their future while on their honeymoon cruise, reveal at the scene's fadeout that they've been standing in front of a life preserver bearing the name "TITANIC". On the whole, however, Cavalcade creaks a bit when seen today, and is best viewed from a historical perspective.
by Hal Erickson synopsis