Firestorm Over Young Stars

The 1937 British period film about Queen Elizabeth and her relationships, especially to Philip of Spain, is pristine and beautifully remastered here. Fire Over England is one of many depictions of British royalty under fire, and it always shows them to high dudgeon. They have only one variation on noblesse oblige.

The beauty does not end there: it is the first pairing of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. Her ability to run around Flora Robson’s court in long dresses likely convinced many she was Scarlett O’Hara, but it is Olivier who prances around, sword-fighting and jumping from high places, doing an Errol Flynn imitation.

In fact, if this had been an American film, it would have been Olivia DeHavilland running around Bette Davis’s queen.

However, this little film may be dull around the edges but makes up for it with a cast that stuns: not only is Flora Robson one of the most apt portrayals of Elizabeth, but she is matched with Raymond Massey showing that his Philip of Spain and Lincoln of Illinois may be more cerebral and sharper than anyone else ever played them.

You can almost forgive the cheesy miniatures and low-budget special effects, limited by the technology of the era.

You also have an early James Mason in an opening scene with Vivien Leigh. Right from the get-go, Mason can play it arrogant and villainous with youth. Then, as if for good measure, Robert Newton shows up—no, not as Francis Drake or any pirate, but in form before he went totally off the deep end.

In a nutshell, swashbuckler Laurence Olivier is sent on a suicide mission by Queen Flora Robson over the objections of Lady in Waiting Vivien Leigh to impersonate evil James Mason at the court of King Raymond Massey and his minion Robert Newton. So, no matter how mundane the script, you know you have fireworks.

Any old-fashioned film-fan will be in his element.