The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Genres - Historical Film, Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Period Film  |   Release Date - Nov 11, 1939 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 106 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Long famous for backstage tensions between stars Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, this Michael Cutiz film is a beautifully made period piece, featuring many of the key personnel who had worked on classic Flynn adventures such as Robin Hood, Captain Blood, and The Sea Hawk. Nevertheless it can't overcome the lack of chemistry between the stars and an overly complicated plot. According to the film's apocryphal history, Elizabeth I is in love with the Earl of Essex but, anxious over his possible desire for greater power, intentionally criticizes him for the high cost of his victory after a triumphant return from Spain in 1596. This sets in motion a Byzantine series of moves and countermoves involving not only the two principals but the entire world of the court, ending with the lovers' realization of the irreconcilability of their conflicting desires for love and power. Aside from the stars' visible starchiness in their scenes together, the film also suffers from an excessive fidelity to Maxwell Anderson's play in blank verse, which has moments of eloquence but is understandably more laden with dialogue than a film can usually afford to be. Erich Korngold's superb score and Orry-Kelly's sumptuous costumes are the most notable offscreen contributions to this handsomely mounted production.