The Mudlark

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The Mudlark
Original film poster
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Screenplay byHilda Grenier
Nunnally Johnson
Based onThe Mudlark
1949 novel
by Theodore Bonnet
Produced byNunnally Johnson
Starring Irene Dunne
Alec Guinness
Andrew Ray
Beatrice Campbell
Finlay Currie
Anthony Steel
Raymond Lovell
Marjorie Fielding
Constance Smith
Cinematography Georges Périnal
Edited by Thelma Connell
Music by William Alwyn
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • 30 October 1950 (1950-10-30)(UK)
  • 28 November 1950 (1950-11-28)(US)
Running time
99 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$1 million (US rentals) [1]

The Mudlark is a 1950 film made in Britain by 20th Century Fox. It is a fictional account of how Queen Victoria was eventually brought out of her mourning for her dead husband, Prince Albert. It was directed by Jean Negulesco, written and produced by Nunnally Johnson and based on the 1949 novel of the same name by American artillery sergeant and San Francisco newspaperman Theodore Bonnet (1908–1983). It stars Irene Dunne, Alec Guinness and Andrew Ray.


"Mudlarks" were street children who survived by scavenging and selling what they could find on the banks of the River Thames. The film was a hit in Britain and made an overnight star of Andrew Ray, who played the title character.


A young street urchin named Wheeler, half-starved, homeless and an orphan, finds a cameo containing the likeness of Queen Victoria. Not recognising her, he is told that she is the "mother of all England". Taking the remark literally, he journeys to Windsor Castle to see her.

He manages to sneak in, and is first spotted by a sympathetic lady-in-waiting, Lady Emily Prior, but before she can safely see him out, he is forced to hide in the dining room when the Queen enters. He falls asleep, and is discovered by his snoring during the meal. Caught (and forcibly bathed), the frightened boy is questioned by John Brown, the Queen's friend and confidant, who soon sees he is not part of any plot against the Queen. On his own (non-existent) authority, he takes the lad on a tour of the castle, even drunkenly encouraging the boy to sit on the throne. The more sober authorities catch up with them, and take the boy into custody for interrogation. He ends up spending Christmas in the Tower of London. Wild rumours circulate among the general public.

Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli has been unsuccessful in persuading the widowed Victoria to end her seclusion following the death of her husband 15 years before. Disraeli sees an opportunity to change her mind and pleads for Wheeler and those like him in Parliament, delivering a speech that indirectly criticizes the Queen for withdrawing from public life. The Queen is infuriated by his action, and tells him so to his face. She refuses to become more accessible to her subjects, despite Brown's urging, but when Wheeler shows up once more, she is genuinely moved upon meeting the boy for the first time, and once again enters public life.

In a subplot, Lady Emily and Lieutenant Charles McHatten are in love, but the Queen is opposed to the relationship. The couple try to elope twice, but each time McHatten is called away on business related to the boy. The Queen eventually relents, and the third attempt at elopement succeeds.


Award nomination

The Mudlark was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in a black-and-white film (Edward Stevenson and Margaret Furse).

Historical inspiration

In Theodore Bonnet's semi-historical novel upon which this film was based, the story of the young mudlark Wheeler (aged ten in the film, but seven in the book) sneaking into Windsor Castle in 1875 to see Queen Victoria was inspired by a 14 December 1838 incident involving "the boy Jones", as newspapers called him. A boy was discovered in Buckingham Palace. At first mistaken for a chimney-sweep, until he ran off across the lawns, he was apprehended by a policeman. (Sweeping of chimneys by boys was not made illegal until 1840.)

The boy gave his name as Edward Cotton and said that he had been born in the palace; later he claimed to have been living there for only a year, after having come from Hertfordshire. In fact, his name was Edward Jones, the 14-year-old son of a tailor who lived in Bell Yard, some 300 yards distant from the palace. The tailor had turned him out for ill conduct. He had been employed as an errand boy by a carver and gilder in Coventry Street, but had disappeared three days previous to his arrest after saying that he wanted to see the palace's Grand Staircase to sketch it and also to see the Queen (who was actually then at Windsor).

At the Westminster Sessions on 28 December, the magistrate's court jury found him not guilty of theft and he was taken back by his employer, who described him as an extremely good lad. (Some details were taken from contemporary reports in the London newspapers The Times , The Sun and The Standard .)

The novel

The Mudlark refers to the seven-year-old waif from the East End but it also could be said to figuratively refer to the British PM Disraeli who came from humble beginnings, and whose life is described in some detail. The novel also manages to give a personality to the Fenians and the Irish question, it includes two love affairs as well as the latitude given by Queen Victoria to her Scottish gillie Brown and the relationship between Victoria and her subjects. It also includes the beginnings of enlightened social reform through parliamentary action, and the further extension of British world influence and of Britain's imperial power in India. And for added humour, some bureaucratic overlap and exaggerated suspicions.


Anthony Steel had just become a film name in The Wooden Horse . [2]

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  1. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, 2 January 1952
  2. Vagg, Stephen (23 September 2020). "The Emasculation of Anthony Steel: A Cold Streak Saga". Filmink.