Friday, August 3, 2018

THE RULE, BRITANNIA FILM BLOGATHON: The Mudlark (1950)


Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting his 5th annual salute to Britain and the movies. Click HERE for this year's contributions to the rebranded Rule, Britannia Film Blogathon.

There is a legend that in the thirty-ninth year of Her Majesty's reign a small boy added a footnote to English History.

British history and Hollywood filmmaking combine to create this winning movie based on a novel by Theodore Bonnet and adapted by producer/writer Nunnally Johnson. The incident of a youngster referred to in the press as "the boy Jones" found to have made himself at home in the grounds of Windsor Castle in 1838 was the basis for this historical fiction. 

20th Century Fox filmed this movie at London Studios, Denham in England. Jean Negulesco directed the mainly British cast with the exception being Irene Dunne in the key role of Queen Victoria. The movie received one Oscar nomination for Edward Stevenson and Margaret Furse in the category of Best Costume Design, Black and White.

Andrew Ray as Wheeler

His name was simply Wheeler and he was a mudlark who scavaged the banks of the Thames for a living. Not yet ten years old, although he couldn't tell you his age. Motherless, fatherless, ignorant, malnourished and dirty, this cast off from society had a yearning soul. This yearning soul made itself known when Wheeler took a brooch off of the body of a dead sailor. The brooch featured a cameo profile of Queen Victoria and the sight of the woman touched something in Wheeler. He would not sell or part with it for love nor money. He battled thieves and drowning to keep it. He imbued in that face all the lovely things he could never name. Learning that the lady was Queen Victoria, the Mother of England, Wheeler set out to see her in person at Windsor Castle.

Making his way through an unlocked gate and falling down a coal chute, Wheeler observed life in the castle from far below stairs to the very dining room of Her Majesty. There he fell asleep, was captured and taken to the Tower of London. Questioning by police and rumours in the press of his being involved in an assassination plot plagued the waif until he burst into tears while Christmas Carols rang in the air outside his prison.

Andrew Ray made his film debut as Wheeler at age 11. Physically he suits the image of a mudlark perfectly. Emotionally, Ray played the role with a proper balance of sensitivity and thoughtlessness.

Irene Dunne as Queen Victoria

She had been grieving for her husband, the late Prince Albert for the past fifteen years, and refused to leave the comfort to be found in the memories associated with Windsor Castle. Diplomatic urgings from Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli could not persuade Queen Victoria to do otherwise, and mild rebukes from her friend John Brown only hardened her heart.

Queen Victoria had steeped herself in her self-pity and convinced herself that her perfunctory actions toward her duty were enough for her people, for the parliament, and for her own well-being. She supported reforms for the welfare of the common and poorest in England, but she wanted nothing to do with the common and poorest of England when they came right into her home.

Irene Dunne does a lovely job of creating a Victoria true to the real character; myopic in her despondency, steadfast in her position, yet human enough to suppress a smile at the foibles in others. The actress is not buried beneath her make-up and costumes, as she plays a wholly recognizable human being.

Alec Guinness as Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli was the most patient and diplomatic of men; well suited to the job of Prime Minister. A master diplomat, his conversations with his monarch in The Mudlark are built with the precision of a match between fencing masters.  

The role of Disraeli falls between Last Holiday and The Lavender Hill Mob in Alec Guinness' filmography. The make-up does a remarkable job of turning the actor into the politician and Guinness does the rest. His determination, idealism, pragmatism, and humour create a worthy and interesting character.

Finlay Currie as John Brown

Finlay Currie plays Queen Victoria's beloved gillie and companion from Balmoral, John Brown. How a man can be so irreverent while adhering to all the niceties of the propriety of the court is a wonder. It would appear that he is helped by his open tippling. Nonetheless, he is a person from whom Her Majesty knows she will hear the truth whether it is pleasant or not. 

The Mudlark is also the story of others in the castle. We are privy to the romantic problems of a guardsman and a lady-in-waiting, in whose elopement the Queen will eventually get involved. The squabbles of those below stairs take centre stage with the self-important head butler, the would-be anarchist, and the saucy maid. The character of the staff is revealed as they interact with and react to the little mudlark.

Mr. Disraeli is able to use the incident of the urchin in the citadel in an impassioned speech in Parliament to rally support for reform. Mr. Brown is able to use Wheeler to bring his friend "the wee lady" out of herself and into the present. Wheeler himself will find his life changed through knowing these high-placed people.

Andrew Ray meets Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
(Queen consort of the United Kingdom and the Dominions)

The Mudlark had its premiere on October 30th, 1950 as a Royal Film Performance raising money for the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund.

I find The Mudlark a charming and emotional experience with remarkable performances and unexpected depth in its examination of class conflict which should be historical but is merely timely.

















18 comments:

  1. I watched this with my mother and we both really enjoyed it.

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    1. I am so pleased to hear of your enjoyment in the film. My late dad used to speak of it fondly, but I never had the opportunity to see it until TCMs Victorian spotlight this past April. Every bit as good as expected from the buildup.

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  2. I seem to remember seeing this scheduled on TCM once or twice when I still had cable TV. It was never on at a time when I could watch it though.

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    1. That's the way it goes. I have often looked at the placement of a movie and plaintively asked "why?" One of these days it will work out.

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  3. Somehow, I have never seen this movie! It sounds very compelling and I didn't even recognize Alec Guinness as Disraeli. Ironically, I just watched Finlay Currie in another movie in which he was also first-rate. It will be interesting to see if the story of real boy will be part of the current VICTORIA TV series.

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    1. I adore Finlay Currie. He never disappoints.

      I wonder if "the boy Jones" will make it to the series. I don't see how the writers could resist it.

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  4. Paddy Lee, some how or other, I've never seen this movie. I really like Irene Dunne, Alec Guinness, and Finlay Currie. Also, the work of producer/writer Nunnally Johnson is a plus of any movie. I wonder if there was any criticism, at the time, of the wonderful Irene Dunne, an American, portraying Queen Victoria? I'll watch this movie in the future.

    I think you meant to write the date of 1875-76, which is the thirty-ninth year of Queen Victoria's reign, instead of 1838 in your really good write-up of THE MUDLARK. Best Wishes.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and noting the date business.

      1838 was the actual year of the incident with "the boy Jones", but the fictionalized novel is set character in 1875. The opening line of this piece (in italics) is the screen prologue of the movie.

      It isn't a movie that I have found easy to see over the years. I hope the opportunity comes your way. TCM showed it back in April, but it doesn't seem to be on their schedule in the coming months.

      I understand how you feel about Nunnally Johnson. I have long been a fan.

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  5. Paddy Lee, forgive me for trying to help correct a date that didn't need correcting in the first place.

    I know this doesn't have anything to do with THE MUDLARK, but I also like Barry Sullivan, who was a top-notch actor.

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    1. No forgiveness necessary. All forgotten except the lesson to make certain I am making myself clear.

      Ha! Yes, indeed, the Barry Sullivan love has been making itself known all over lately. We're practically a cult, aren't we?

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  6. I have to confess that I have yet to see The Mudlark, but as a fan of both Irene Dunne and Sir Alec Guinness I have always wanted to. It sounds like a wonderful movie! Thank you so much for taking part in the blogathon!

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    1. My pleasure. Thank you for hosting.

      I had heard about The Mudlark all my life from my dad. At least it seemed so. However, it wasn't until TCMs recent Victorian spotlight that I can recall ever having the opportunity to see it. I hope they plan on sharing it again.

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  7. I've never heard of this movie before, but after reading your review, I'll seek it out. Thanks!

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    1. I'm glad I could bring it to your attention. What's one or a dozen more movies on our "gotta check that out" list?

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  8. Fantastic post Patricia. Somehow this film has seemed to escaped me. Now I have to check it out. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    I also invite you to read my late contribution to the blogathon.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/the-elephant-man-1980/

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    1. Thank you, Crystal. It is a difficult movie to find as it is rarely aired. After all these years, I was beginning to think my father had imagined it.

      Was looking forward to your article. Thanks for the link.

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  9. Whoa – I can't believe I've never even heard of this film. It sounds like it could be a new favourite. :)

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