Fire Over England

Last updated

Fire Over England
Fire-over-england-1937.jpg
Film poster
Directed by William K. Howard
Screenplay by Clemence Dane
Sergei Nolbandov
Based on Fire Over England
1936 novel
by A. E. W. Mason
Produced by Erich Pommer
Alexander Korda
Starring Laurence Olivier
Vivien Leigh
Flora Robson
Leslie Banks
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited byJack Dennis
Music by Richard Addinsell
Color process Black and white
Production
company
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • 5 March 1937 (1937-03-05)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Language English

Fire Over England is a 1937 London Film Productions film drama, notable for providing the first pairing of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. It was directed by William K. Howard and written by Clemence Dane from the 1936 novel Fire Over England by AEW Mason. Leigh's performance in the film helped to convince David O. Selznick to cast her as Scarlett O'Hara in his 1939 production of Gone with the Wind . The film is a historical drama set during the reign of Elizabeth I focusing on England's victory over the Spanish Armada. [1]

Contents

Plot

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, England is concerned by the impending arrival of the Spanish Armada. In 1588, relations between Spain and England are at breaking point. With the support of Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson), English privateers such as Sir Francis Drake regularly capture Spanish merchantmen bringing gold from the New World.

Elizabeth's chief advisers are the Lord Treasurer, Lord Burleigh (Morton Selten), and her longtime admirer, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Leslie Banks). Burleigh's 18-year-old granddaughter Cynthia (Vivien Leigh) is one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting, and the ageing queen is plagued by jealousy of the girl's beauty and vivacity.

In a sea battle between the Spanish, led by Don Miguel (Robert Rendel), and the English, led by his old friend Sir Richard Ingolby (Lyn Harding) the English are captured. Miguel allows Richard's son Michael (Laurence Olivier) to escape. Michael swims ashore on Miguel's estate, and his wounds are tended to by Miguel's daughter Elena (Tamara Desni), who quickly becomes enamoured of the handsome Englishman, despite her being engaged to marry. As the months pass, Michael recovers and laments being apart from Cynthia, his sweetheart, but is nonetheless impressed by Elena's charms.

Miguel brings Michael the sad news that Sir Richard, his father, has been executed as a heretic. The grieving Michael denounces his rescuers and flees to England in a small fishing boat. When he is granted an audience with the Queen he urges her to fight the Spanish menace by whatever means necessary, and swears undying loyalty to her. Elizabeth is flattered by the young man's fervent devotion and later has an opportunity to take advantage of his offer of service when Hillary Vane (James Mason), an Englishman spying for Spain, is killed before the names of his English co-conspirators can be uncovered.

Michael, disguised as Vane, goes to the court of King Philip II of Spain (Raymond Massey) to get the letters that will set into motion a plan to assassinate Elizabeth. At the palace Michael meets Elena. Her father has been killed by the English and she is now married to Don Pedro (Robert Newton), the palace governor. Elena keeps Michael's identity a secret as long as she can, but finally must tell her husband out of loyalty to him.

Philip sees through Michael's disguise and orders his arrest. Pedro helps him escape so that it will not be discovered that his wife aided a heretic. While Michael is returning home, the Spanish Armada sails against England and Elizabeth addresses her army at Tilbury. Michael meets her there and reveals the names of the traitors. Elizabeth knights Michael before confronting the six traitors, inviting them to fulfill their plot and kill her. Overwhelmed with shame, they agree to accompany Michael on a mission to deploy fire ships in a night attack on the Armada, massed off the coast of England.

The tactic succeeds, and Elizabeth allows Michael and Cynthia to be wed.

Cast

Production

With the working title of Glorianna, principal photography took place at Denham Studios, where a large water tank was used to launch the model ships representing the Spanish Armada and the English naval defenders. Originally Conrad Veidt was to star, but Alexander Korda saw the production as a star vehicle for Vivien Leigh, who was under contract to Korda. [2] Along with the historical drama that was portrayed, Fire Over England was also a costume romance that served to showcase Leigh and Olivier, a real-life romantic couple. [3]

The Lion Has Wings

A portion of the film, including the beacons being lit on the English coast, and an armour-clad Queen Elizabeth giving her speech to the surrounding soldiers at Tilbury before the Battle of Gravelines, was used in the 1939 World War II propaganda documentary The Lion Has Wings . It is used to compare the Spanish invasion attempt to a Nazi invasion, demonstrating how Great Britain had survived against great odds in the past, and would again.

Reception

Fire Over England was the first British film to have its US premiere at Los Angeles. Overall, the picture garnered positive reviews. In the review in Variety , the comment was "This is a handsomely mounted and forcefully dramatic glorification of Queen Bess. It holds a succession of brilliantly played scenes, a wealth of choice diction, pointed excerpts from English history and a series of impressive tableaux." [4] Writing for The Spectator in 1937, Graham Greene gave the film a mixed review, acknowledging it as "well-directed and lavish", but criticizing its lack of historical realism. Greene stated that "the sets are magnificent" and that "the acting is far better than we are accustomed to in English films", but considered the production to have "strayed out of history" and called certain scenes "absurd" and "embarrassing". [5] The League of Nations Committee on Motion Pictures awarded the 1937 Cinema Medal of Honor to Fire Over England. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

Elizabeth I Queen of England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death in 1603. Sometimes referred to as the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

Vivien Leigh British actress

Vivien Leigh, styled as Lady Olivier after 1947, was a British actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress twice, for her definitive performances as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a role she had also played on stage in London's West End in 1949. She also won a Tony Award for her work in the Broadway musical version of Tovarich (1963). Although her career had periods of inactivity, in 1999 the American Film Institute ranked Leigh as the 16th greatest female movie star of classic Hollywood cinema.

Elizabethan era Epoch in English history marked by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603)

The Elizabethan era is the epoch in the Tudor period of the history of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603). Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history. The symbol of Britannia was first used in 1572, and often thereafter, to mark the Elizabethan age as a renaissance that inspired national pride through classical ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over Spain.

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex English nobleman (1565–1601)

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, KG, PC was an English nobleman and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Politically ambitious, and a committed general, he was placed under house arrest following a poor campaign in Ireland during the Nine Years' War in 1599. In 1601, he led an abortive coup d'état against the government of Elizabeth I and was executed for treason.

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley English statesman and chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth I (1520-1598)

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley was an English statesman, the chief adviser of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign, twice Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer from 1572. In his description in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Albert Pollard wrote, "From 1558 for forty years the biography of Cecil is almost indistinguishable from that of Elizabeth and from the history of England."

Speech to the Troops at Tilbury Elizabeth Is speech of 1588

The Speech to the Troops at Tilbury was delivered on 9 August Old Style 1588 by Queen Elizabeth I of England to the land forces earlier assembled at Tilbury in Essex in preparation for repelling the expected invasion by the Spanish Armada.

<i>The Sea Hawk</i> (1940 film) 1940 film by Michael Curtiz

The Sea Hawk is a 1940 American adventure film from Warner Bros. that stars Errol Flynn as an English privateer who defends his nation's interests on the eve of the launch of the Spanish Armada. The film was the tenth collaboration between Flynn and director Michael Curtiz. Its screenplay was written by Howard Koch and Seton I. Miller. The rousing musical score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold is recognized as a high point in his career. The film was both an adventure and a period piece about Elizabethan England's struggles with Spain. It was also meant as a deliberately pro-British propaganda film to build morale during World War II and to influence the American public into having a more pro-British outlook. King Philip was presented as an allegorical Hitler..

<i>Elizabeth: The Golden Age</i> 2007 film by Shekhar Kapur

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a 2007 biographical period drama film directed by Shekhar Kapur and produced by Universal Pictures and Working Title Films. It stars Cate Blanchett in the title role and is a fairly fictionalised portrayal of events during the later part of the reign of Elizabeth I, a sequel to Kapur's 1998 film Elizabeth. The film co-stars Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Jordi Mollà, Abbie Cornish, and Samantha Morton. The screenplay was written by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, and the music score was composed by Craig Armstrong and A. R. Rahman. Guy Hendrix Dyas was the film's production designer and co-visual effects supervisor, and the costumes were created by Alexandra Byrne. The film was shot at Shepperton Studios and various locations around the United Kingdom.

A. E. W. Mason English novelist (1865–1948)

Alfred Edward Woodley Mason was an English author and politician. He is best remembered for his 1902 novel of courage and cowardice in wartime, The Four Feathers and is also known as the creator of Inspector Hanaud, a French detective who was an early template for Agatha Christie's famous Hercule Poirot.

Jill Esmond British actress (1908–1990)

Jill Esmond was an English stage and screen actress. She was the first wife of Laurence Olivier.

English Armada Attack fleet sent against Spain by Queen Elizabeth I of England

The English Armada, also known as the Counter Armada or the Drake–Norris Expedition, was an attack fleet sent against Spain by Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1589 during the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604) and the Eighty Years' War. Led by Sir Francis Drake as admiral and Sir John Norreys as general, it failed to drive home the advantage that England had won upon the failure of the Spanish Armada in the previous year. The Spanish victory marked a revival of Philip II's naval power through the next decade.

<i>Elephant Walk</i> 1954 film by William Dieterle

Elephant Walk is a 1954 American drama film produced by Paramount Pictures, directed by William Dieterle, and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews, Peter Finch and Abraham Sofaer.It is based upon the 1948 novel Elephant Walk by "Robert Standish", the pseudonym of the English novelist Digby George Gerahty (1898–1981).

<i>A Yank at Oxford</i> 1938 film by Jack Conway

A Yank at Oxford (1938) is a comedy-drama film directed by Jack Conway and starring Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O'Sullivan, Vivien Leigh and Edmund Gwenn. The screenplay was written by John Monk Saunders and Leon Gordon. The film was produced by MGM-British at Denham Studios.

<i>That Hamilton Woman</i> 1941 film by Alexander Korda

That Hamilton Woman, also known as Lady Hamilton, is a 1941 black-and-white historical film drama, produced and directed by Alexander Korda for his British company during his exile in the United States. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the film tells the story of the rise and fall of Emma Hamilton, dance-hall girl and courtesan, who married Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples. She later became mistress to Admiral Horatio Nelson. The film was a critical and financial success, and while on the surface the plot is both a war story and a romance set in Napoleonic times, it was also intended to function as a deliberately pro-British film that would portray Britain positively within the context of World War II which was being fought at that time. At the time the film was released France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Denmark had all surrendered to the Nazis and the Soviet Union was still officially allied to them, correspondingly the British were fighting against the Nazis alone and felt the need to produce films that would both boost their own morale, and also portray them sympathetically to the foreign world, and in particular, to the United States.

<i>Sir Francis Drake</i> (TV series) British television series

Sir Francis Drake is a 1961–1962 British adventure television series starring Terence Morgan as Sir Francis Drake, commander of the sailing ship the Golden Hind. As well as battles at sea and sword fights, the series also deals with intrigue at Queen Elizabeth's court.

Spanish Armada Fleet sailing against England in 1588

The Spanish Armada was a Spanish fleet of 130 ships that sailed from Lisbon in late May 1588 under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, with the purpose of escorting an army from Flanders to invade England. Medina Sidonia was an aristocrat without naval command experience but was made commander by King Philip II. The aim was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I and her establishment of Protestantism in England, to stop English interference in the Spanish Netherlands, and to stop the harm caused by English and Dutch privateering ships that disrupted Spanish interests in the Americas.

Events from the 1580s in England.

Morton Selten

Morton Selten was a British stage and film actor. He was occasionally credited as Morton Selton.

Singeing the King of Spains Beard

Singeing the King of Spain's Beard is the derisive name given to a series of attacks by the English privateer Francis Drake against the Spanish in the summer of 1587, beginning in April with a raid on Cádiz. This was an attack on the Spanish naval forces assembling in the Bay of Cádiz in preparation for the planned expedition against England. Much of the Spanish fleet was destroyed, and substantial supplies were destroyed or captured. There followed a series of raiding parties against several forts along the Portuguese coast. A Spanish treasure ship, returning from the Indies, was also captured. The damage caused by the English delayed Spanish preparations for the Armada by more than a year.

<i>Fire Over England</i> (novel) 1936 novel by A.E.W. Mason

Fire Over England is a 1936 English adventure novel written by A. E. W. Mason. The book is set in the late 16th century and covers the English response to the threat of the 1588 Spanish Armada; it is a thinly veiled analogy to the international situation facing Britain in 1936, a point explicitly made by Mason in his Preface to the first edition.

References

Notes

  1. Vermilye 1978, pp. 36–38.
  2. 1 2 "Notes: 'Fire OVer England'." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  3. Carr, Jay. "Article: 'Fire OVer England'." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  4. "Review: 'Fire OVer England'." Variety'. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  5. Greene, Graham (5 March 1937). "Fire Over England/Maid of Salem/Theodora Goes Wild". The Spectator . (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. pp. 135–137. ISBN   0192812866.)

Bibliography