The Virgin Queen (1955)
Director: Henry Koster
Cast: Bette Davis, Richard Todd, Joan Collins
Synopsis: Sir Walter Raleigh overcomes court intrigue to win favor with the Queen in order to get financing for a proposed voyage to the New World.
In Elizabethan England, young adventurer Walter Raleigh (Richard Todd — A Yank at Oxford) makes use of a chance encounter with Lord Leicester (Herbert Marshall — The Razor’s Edge, Duel in the Sun) to wangle his way into the court of the ageing Queen Elizabeth (Bette Davis — The Great Lie, Where Love Has Gone). Raleigh has a dream of building three ships to take him to the New World where he is convinced great riches for his country await. However, having made the acquaintance of the Queen, he finds that his outspoken single-mindedness of purpose does much to undo the favourable impression he makes upon her. His residence in the ill-tempered monarch’s good books is further threatened by his secret affair with Beth Throgmorton (Joan Collins — Turn the Key Softly), one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting.
Apparently, The Virgin Queen was originally intended to be a swashbuckler entitled The Adventures of Sir Walter Raleigh, but when Hollywood Diva Bette Davis indicated her interest in playing the part of Queen Elizabeth, a role she had already essayed in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, the film was rewritten to give the Queen a larger role. This adjustment of the focus of the story might explain why the The Virgin Queen
feels a little too loose at times, with not enough plot for its running time. It’s Bette’s movie, and she enlivens what might otherwise be something of a turgid potboiler, despite the best efforts of Todd, who was a fine actor but no swashbuckler. Having said that, we don’t really see much action after an opening bar-room swordfight which serves no purpose other than to show what a virile chap young Walter is. Not that Beth is willing to admit that. Despite her obvious attraction to him, she spends most of their scenes together more or less telling him to grow a pair when it comes to his interactions with the queen, who demands unwavering devotion from her men. Collins looks beautiful in the role of Beth, but she was an actress who always struggled to imprint her character on the screen, and its little wonder that her Hollywood career was never as successful as it might have been.
The Virgin Queen is a pleasant enough time-filler, with a compelling performance from Bette Davis which both overshadows and dilutes the efforts of those around her. Only Richard Todd just about manages to hold his own, but even he would never have claimed to be Britain’s answer to Errol Flynn.
(Reviewed 21st July 2014)