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The Barretts of Wimpole Street

(1957 c 105')

En: 6 Ed: 7

This remake of Rudolph Besier's play is directed by Sidney Franklin who also directed the very similar 1934 version. A pious and tyrannical father tries to prevent his daughters from marrying; but the famous poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning manage to get together.
      In 1845 Elizabeth Barrett (Jennifer Jones) has been shut up as an invalid in a room for five years, but her doctor suggests a change. Elizabeth likes writing poetry. Her father Edward Moulton-Barrett (John Gielgud) tells her that he will not pay £30 to retrieve her dog Flush even though the dog will be put to death. Her sister Henrietta (Virginia McKenna) brings Flush back to Elizabeth who is very grateful to her. Their father reprimands Henrietta and asks where she got the money for the dog, and she says she sold her mother’s gold ring for Flush, not for a dog.
      The father reprimands her brothers and sisters for disturbing his oldest and favorite daughter Elizabeth. He insists she drink porter and says she means everything to him, wanting her to love him, not fear him. She hates drinking it and got her doctor to agree; but her father insists that she drink it and threatens to disown her sister Henrietta for refusing to bring it to her. In order to keep Henrietta from getting into trouble, Elizabeth drinks the porter she hates. Henrietta is in love with Captain Surtees Cook (Vernon Gray) and goes out in the snow to tell him her father won't let her see him.
      Robert Browning (Bill Travers) calls on Elizabeth and already knows her from her writing. He wants to help her and says he loves her. Elizabeth says she has no place in her life for love because she is dying. After he leaves, she starts walking; her doctor is glad to see her improvement. On another visit she goes downstairs to see Robert, and they talk of going to Italy for the winter. Her father comes in and carries Elizabeth upstairs. He objects to her going to Italy. She tells Robert, and he criticizes her father’s “devotion.” He says he will always love her. Elizabeth loves him too but asks him to go. Robert asks her to marry him and will wait years if necessary.
      The father is charmed by his flirtatious niece Bella (Susan Stephen) and realizes Elizabeth loves Robert. The five brothers and three sisters rejoice when they hear their father is going away for a while. While he is away, Elizabeth meets Robert in the park. She plays piano and sings “Wilt Thou Have My Hand” with her brothers and sisters. In a letter they learn that their father plans to move the family to the country. Robert tells Elizabeth they must be married at once. She asks him how he will feel if she dies, but he will take the risk. Henrietta shows Elizabeth her friend Captain Cook in full uniform. Her father comes in and forbids Henrietta to see him, making her swear on the Bible. Elizabeth confronts her father. Then she tells her maid Wilson (Jean Anderson) she is marrying Robert, and they are taking her to Italy. Wilson takes a letter to Robert.
      Henrietta tells Elizabeth she is going to see Cook, and she will lie to her father. The father tells Elizabeth how the love of his wife turned to fear, doing what he thought was right. Elizabeth pities him. While the family is at dinner, Elizabeth and Wilson leave, taking only her dog. Her sister Arabel (Maxine Audley) cries hysterically as she reads Elizabeth’s letter. Henrietta gives a letter to her father and asks him to forgive Elizabeth. He orders her dog destroyed.
      In the final scene with only Wilson as a witness Robert and Elizabeth are wed in a church.
      This true story shows how a pious father can make his children miserable with his own perverted sense of duty from frustrated love. The buoyant spirit of the poetic Robert raises the spirits of Elizabeth sufficiently to liberate her from her father’s control in a patriarchal era when men tended to dominate women and their own children.

Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

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