Beau Brummell (1954)
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Cast: Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov
Synopsis: An English Don Juan courts the Prince of Wales’s favor while romancing his way through society.
Curtis Bernhardt’s colourful remake of the silent 1924 John Barrymore vehicle benefits from handsome production values, a sumptuous soundtrack, and a largely effective cast, but cannot, unfortunately, escape its stage origins. Consequently, Beau Brummell is far too static and talky for an historical epic, and the pace suffers badly — especially in the first hour.
Stewart Granger makes an admirable Brummell, although perhaps not quite as foppish as intended, and is more than ably supported by a young Peter Ustinov as the spoiled and peevish Prince of Wales, whom Beau Brummell tries to mould into a man fit to be king. Robert Morley also makes his mark in what amounts to little more than a cameo as the daffy king, by turns humorous and tragic. Only Elizabeth Taylor fails to convince as the love of Brummell’s life: she is too lightweight an actress to pull off the degree of turmoil and angst required by her part.
The story basically concentrates on Beau Brummell’s rise in society as a result of his close friendship with George, Prince of Wales, and his sympathetic support of George’s love for Mrs. Fitzherbert — whom royal protocol forbids him from marrying. Together, they form an alliance against Prime Minister William Pitt (Paul Rogers), who is perhaps unfairly portrayed as a somewhat shady character with a suspect (but unexplained) agenda.
At 113 minutes, the film is a good twenty minutes too long. Many individual scenes are far too long (especially the concluding scene, which tries to tug the heartstrings but fails completely) but, despite this, after the slow start it does manage to hold the attention. Watch out for the remark by Brummell that marks the end of his friendship with the Prince — it’s a killer!
(Reviewed 18th April 2002)