For Reel

Fire Over England (1937)
August 23, 2015, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William K. Howard
3.5 Stars
Fire Over EnglandThis amusing period film was the first to star Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, then both married to other people. Set in Elizabethan England, Fire Over England involves the son (Olivier) of a man murdered by the Inquisition going undercover in the court of King Philip of Spain (Raymond Massey). Olivier was not particularly adept at playing swashbuckler roles–his attraction as a star has much to do with his sense of outwardly projecting a brooding sense of interiority, not his skill with acrobatics. The best parts of the picture involve Olivier playing his character’s growth from boy to man. Early in the picture, he meets the news of his father’s death with an infantile whimpering–a reasonable reaction to meet the report, but not one typical of the star of an adventure film. Similarly, in his romantic scenes, he often puts his head on the woman’s breast rather than vice versa, suggesting a sense of boyishness. Only when he is validated by Queen Elizabeth (a magnetic Flora Robson) does he come into himself and show more wit and confidence as a performer. James Wong Howe contributes some stunning visuals that brilliantly serve the narrative. In a particularly dazzling scene, Olivier accepts his task from the queen at the potential risk of sacrificing his future with Leigh. Robson towers over her co-stars, and from behind a blinding light pours through the windows, suggesting not only the holiness of Olivier’s sense of duty, but the responsibilities of the outside invading the private world of the lovers.

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