In Victorian England, poetess Elizabeth “Ba” Barrett (Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette) falls in love with fellow poet Robert Browning (Bill Travers, Born Free), but they hide the relationship from Elizabeth’s controlling father (John Gielgud, Murder on the Orient Express and Arthur).
Reaction & Thoughts:
The Barretts of Wimpole Street is part of one of my favorite movie oddities: a film made twice by the same director. Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, William Wyler and Cecil B. DeMille are among the filmmakers who, for whatever reason, chose to remake one of their own films. I find the exercise fascinating and much more interesting than Gus Van Sant’s superfluous Psycho remake.
Sidney Franklin directed this film as well as the 1934 version. Both movies were adapted from Rudolf Besier’s 1930 stage play. John Dighton (The Swan) is credited with writing the new version, but it is quite obvious that he used the old 1934 script. I immediately noticed that costumes and sets are similar to the 1934 version.
There are some small differences. This version was filmed in England in CinemaScope and Metrocolor by Oscar-winning cameraman Freddie A. Young (Lawrence of Arabia). The camera work is definitely more fluid and polished. The few outdoor sequences are a welcome break from the endless indoor scenes. And it was really cool to see Elizabeth’s famous dog, Flush, have a more prominent role this time around.
The climax is different too. The 1934 movie suggested that the father had incestuous feelings towards his daughter. It was a mere suggestion that the film almost immediately walked back, depraving the movie of a powerful climax.
This time it is plainly stated that the father is lusting after the daughter — it is made perfectly clear that Elizabeth realizes her father’s true intentions. The censors had started losing their grip on the American film industry, so finally we get to see this pivotal moment as it was originally intended. It’s a powerful scene that actors Jennifer Jones and John Gielgud handle brilliantly.
Speaking of Jones and Gielgud, how does the cast compare to the actors in the 1934 movie? Although I thought Norma Shearer was very good as Elizabeth, I much prefer Jones’s interpretation — frankly, Jones is simply a better equipped actress.
I also preferred Bill Travers to Fredric March. John Gielgud is equal to Chales Laughton (it is an impossibly one-dimensional character that no actor could have conquered). Virgina MacKenna (wife of actor Travers) makes the biggest improvement (she plays Maureen O’Sullivan’s old role of Henrietta). MacKenna conveys beautifully “youthful romanticism” thus making her character all the more tragic.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
All flaws aside, I slightly prefer this remake to the original. However, I still think that the remake was a missed opportunity. I wouldn’t mind seeing a new version of Besier’s play. Maybe someone like New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion, who did such a great job with Bright Star (a film about poet John Keats and his love affair with Fanny Brawne), could finally lick the material. Color, 115 minutes, Not Rated.