Film of the Month

Tudor Rose (1936)

Following the death of Henry VIII, the young, sickly Edward VI ascends the throne and the palace struggle over who controls him commences. But some smart operators have their eye on his possible successor: Lady Jane Grey.    

Tudor Rose is one of the many period pictures the industry churned out in the wake of the success of The Private Life of Henry VIII. It lacks Henry's vigour and sauciness - inappropriate for the core audience of its star, Nova Pilbeam - but it's a handsome production, packed with the cream of British acting talent. A measure of this is that five of the actors participating in it would go on to be knighted or damed.

 The film has that fusty, dusty look of so many 30s period drama. The costumes are nice but they add to the feeling that this is more village pageant than documentary. There's never a sense that behind the pageantry there's an army of servants and farmers and administrators getting the work done that's necessary for the fine folk to swan about in their pretty clothes.

Graham Greene famously loathed this film: "There is not a character, not an incident, in which history has not been altered for the cheapest of reasons."  He seems to have missed the point. This is not history, it's drama, and teen drama at that. Pilbeam's fans wanted to see her as a princess (or as near as Lady Jane got to being one), suffering in silks and being wronged by the adults around her. A sweet romance with unthreatening totty John Mills was also a plus for them. Seen in that light, Tudor Rose delivers.

There are a few missteps, notably Frank Cellier's decision to play the dying Henry VII like one of the old loons Moore Marriott specialised in. Once you've got that notion into your head, it's impossible not to laugh throughout his deathbed scene. However, a dodgy Henry VIII is more than compensated by Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies's magnificently dour Mary I. Ffrangcon-Davies didn't make many films so it's a treat to see her in her hayday.

Despite the carping of Graham Greene and other critics, Tudor Rose did well at the box office. And the best that can be said for it now is that at 72 minutes it's too short and never outstays its welcome.

Script.: Robert Stevenson, Miles Malleson

Director: Robert Stevenson

Players: Nova Pilbeam, Cedric Hardwicke, John Mills, Felix Aylmer, Leslie Perrins, Frank Cellier, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Sybil Thorndike, Desmond Tester, Martita Hunt, Miles Malleson, John Laurie, Roy Emerton, Albert Davies, Arthur Goullet, John Turnbull, Peter Croft