The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

A rich tapestry, fusing romance, adventure, and political intrigue. Director Michael Curtiz’s 1939 historical period drama, which was nominated for five Academy Awards, was based on a play by Michael Anderson and sets the tumultuous affair between Queen Elizabeth I (Bette Davis) and the second earl of Essex, Edward Devereux (Errol Flynn) against Essex’s powerful ambition to assume the throne of England.

Having won several battles, Essex’s popularity among the people is at its zenith. Fearing his power, Elizabeth sends him on an ill-fated campaign to Ireland. When he and his troops return in defeat, Essex demands to share the throne with the heirless queen, and Elizabeth, at first, intends to marry. Ultimately sensing the marriage would prove disastrous for England, Elizabeth sets in motion a merciless plan to protect her people and preserve her throne.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

Vincent Price, who left the play Outward Bound in New York to make his second Hollywood film, plays a youthful Sir Walter Raleigh. Though little more than a cameo, his brief scenes lend the epic costume drama a distinguished air. Having played the role of Essex on stage, Price found himself in a big drama of its own on set when director Curtiz threatened to replace bad boy Errol Flynn with Price if he continued to turn up late. It worked.

Price also appeared in Flynn’s 1951 drama Adventures of Captain Fabian (at the end of the mercurial actor’s career), and with Bette Davis (48 years later) in Lindsay Anderson’s elegiac swansong The Whales of August.

After filming was completed on the Warner Bros romp, Price returned to Universal for Tower of London, a fictional version of Shakespeare’s Richard III.



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