Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fire Over England

While most people seem uninterested in movies released before 1995, I've often found entertainment in older film -- and sometimes they contain concepts that give me pause. That's what happened recently when I watched Fire Over England.

Produced in 1937, this British historical drama set in Tudor England had a deliberate subtext. The film makers used the invasion by the Spanish Armada as an allegory to contemporary England's threat of invasion by Nazi Germany. Philip II is portrayed as a coldly cruel tyrant who rules his subjects in a fashion similar to that of Hitler (as seen through British eyes).

Here's Philip II (Raymond Massey) delivering his philosophy on how to rule a country.

Only by fear can the people be made to do their duty -- and not always then.
Not relevant today? How many laws, policies and practices contrary to the Constitution have been enacted since 9/11? And how many, until recently, have gone unchallenged through fear?

Consider this scene, where Don Pedro (Robert Newton) gently chides his wife (Tamara Desni) for wanting to help an Englishman who's a family friend.

You see, Elana, the whole trouble comes from treating your enemies like human beings. Don’t you see, my dear, that when you do that they cease to be enemies? Think what that leads to. It’s the end of patriotism. It’s the end of war. It’s the end of – everything.
Now there's a chilling thought. When written, those lines were meant to characterize the fascist outlook -- so why do they ring true today? There are many Americans who share Don Pedro's view -- and you don't have to search very hard to find them.

For me, Fire Over England worked on many levels, and it was a rollicking good film to boot. Vivian Leigh, Raymond Massey, Laurence Olivier, James Mason and Flora Robeson -- a great cast turning in performances that few could equal today. Check out this interplay between Queen Elisabeth (Flora Robeson) and the Spanish ambassador (Henry Oscar). There's no question who the bad guy is, but his barely concealed arrogance hits just the right note. And Robeson delivers her lines with subtlety and wit, while never letting there be any doubt about the fire of her resolve.

All this, and a great score by Richard Addinsell proving the perfect sonic backdrop.

Fine acting, a good story, and plenty to think about after the movie ends. Now that's entertainment!

- Ralph

1 comment:

  1. Film "Fire Over England" is wonderful.

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