The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957 film)

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The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Poster of The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957 film).jpg
Directed by Sidney Franklin
Produced by Sam Zimbalist
Written by John Dighton (screenplay)
Based on The Barretts of Wimpole Street
1930 play
by Rudolf Besier
Starring John Gielgud
Jennifer Jones
Bill Travers
Virginia McKenna
Music by Bronisław Kaper
Cinematography Freddie Young
Edited byFrank Clarke
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Language English
Budget$2.2 million [3]
Box office$1.1 million [3]

The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a 1957 Metrocolor CinemaScope film originating from the United Kingdom, and was a re-make of the earlier 1934 version by the same director, Sidney Franklin. [4] Both films are based on the 1930 play The Barretts of Wimpole Street by Rudolf Besier. The screenplay for the 1957 film is credited to John Dighton, although Franklin used exactly the same script for the second movie as he did for the first. [5] The film, set in the early 19th century, stars Jennifer Jones, John Gielgud, and Bill Travers.



Elizabeth Barrett (Jennifer Jones) is the disabled grown-up daughter of Edward Moulton-Barrett (John Gielgud) of Wimpole Street, and has an intense interest in poetry. However, she lives under the obsessive rule of her father, and this severely limits her ability to develop her love of rhyme amongst her peers. Edward in fact shows clear incestuous tendencies towards her, and discourages close contact with any males. When the poet Robert Browning (Bill Travers) enters her life, though, matters are brought to a head, through the intervention of Browning. Edward finds that his control over Elizabeth, and her younger sister Henrietta (Virginia McKenna), is far from complete. [4]




To lend the whole project an air of authenticity, producer Sam Zimbalist moved filming from the 1934 location in the United States to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England. [6]


Zimbalist wanted only "fine English actors" with the exception of American actress Jennifer Jones. The cast included Bill Travers (Browning) and Virginia McKenna (Henrietta), though cast to play future in-laws in the film, were actually husband and wife in real life. [7]


The production wanted to use as many correct locations as possible, including St Marylebone Parish Church in London. [8]

The film was shot in Metrocolor, using CinemaScope, with an aspect ratio of 2.35 : 1 on 35mm film. [9] The 4-track stereo sound was supplied by Westrex. [10]


The film was an expensive financial failure. According to MGM records, it earned $330,000 in the U.S. and Canada, and $725,000 in other countries, resulting in a loss of $1,897,000. [3]


Reviews were generally positive, although several critics questioned the decision to remake the film at that time because of its lack of appeal to the rock and roll generation. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised the film as "another fine production of the old romance ... It does one's heart good to visit once more that dramatic old house on Wimpole Street." [11]

Variety wrote that the film had "a quality look, perfectly picturing the era with almost museum fidelity and reflecting astuteness in virtually all phases except possibly the most important—choice of story for the current, highly competitive market." The review thought that younger viewers would find the film "no more than a quaint, old-fashioned, boy-meets-girl drama, long, talky and often tedious." [12]

Harrison's Reports agreed, calling the film "a quality production" but "extremely slow-moving, and the morals and manners of the period, as presented, may prove much too stately for today's mass audiences." [13] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post declared the film "an excellent remake of an old favorite" with a "chilling, memorable performance" by Gielgud. [14]

A generally positive review in The New Yorker by John McCarten called the script a "fair and literate adaptation" of the play and Mr. Barrett "an impressive figure" as played by Gielgud, "but I'm afraid I can't say as much for Jennifer Jones, who plays the invalid Elizabeth as if she'd just completed a lively hay ride, or for Bill Travers, whose Browning is unconscionably ebullient." [15] The Monthly Film Bulletin remarked that the decision to remake the film seemed "rather odd," given that to modern viewers it "must appear a little tame and lacking in spirit. In any case, the handling of Rudolf Besier's heavily dramatic play reveals little flair or imagination; the film is far too static and theatrically manoeuvered to maintain the interest throughout its considerable running time." [16]

Historical accuracy

Although most of the names of the individuals involved are correct in the play and films, by definition motivations of individuals cannot be known. The numerous love letters that Robert and Elizabeth exchanged before their marriage, however, can give readers a great deal of information about this famous courtship in their own words. The correspondence was well underway before they ever met in person, he having admired the collection Poems that she published in 1844. He opens his first letter to her, 'I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,' and a little later in that first letter he says 'I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart—and I love you too' (10 January 1845). [17]

Several editions of these letters have been published, starting with one by their son in 1898. Flush by Virginia Woolf, a version of the courtship from the perspective of Elizabeth's dog, is also an imaginative reconstruction, though more closely based on reading the letters. Both the play and film reflect popular concerns at the time, particularly Freudian analysis. Although Edward Barrett's behaviour in disinheriting the children who married seems bizarre, there is no evidence of his being sexually aggressive toward any family members. [18]

See also

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  1. "The Barretts of Wimpole Street - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 29 June 2018.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. "'Barretts' to M. H." Motion Picture Daily: 2. 11 January 1957.
  3. 1 2 3 The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study
  4. 1 2 Film synopsis and details: New York Times website. Retrieved on 15 January 2008.
  5. Same script: website. Retrieved on 15 January 2008.
  6. MGM studios, Borehamwood [ permanent dead link ], circa 1938: Francis Frith website. Retrieved on 15 January 2008.
  7. Production details: from an article at the TCM website. Retrieved on 15 January 2008.
  8. Marylebone Church, London [ permanent dead link ], used as film location: website. Retrieved on 15 January 2008.
  9. Technical specifications: website. Retrieved on 15 January 2008.
  10. Other technical info: website. Retrieved on 15 January 2008.
  11. Crowther, Bosley (18 January 1957). "The Screen: A New Visit to 'Wimpole Street'". The New York Times : 14.
  12. "The Barretts of Wimpole Street". Variety : 6. 16 January 1957.
  13. "'The Barretts of Wimpole Street' with Jennifer Jones and John Gielgud". Harrison's Reports : 6. 12 January 1957.
  14. Coe, Richard L. (15 March 1957). "The Barretts Back in Style". The Washington Post : D10.
  15. McCarten, John (26 January 1957). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker : 95.
  16. "The Barretts of Wimpole Street". The Monthly Film Bulletin . 24 (278): 27. March 1957.
  17. Kelley, Philip, et al., eds., The Brownings' Correspondence. Wedgestone Press, 1992. Vol. 10, p. 17
  18. The Courtship of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, Daniel Karlin, Oxford University Press, 1987, pages 1 and 3.