Sixty Glorious Years (1938). Directed by Herbert Wilcox. Starring Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook.
Sadly, there isn’t even close to sixty glorious minutes in Herbert Wilcox’s hurriedly made sequel to 1937’s smash hit Victoria the Great, completely in glorious Technicolor this time – although it has to be said that the palette is pretty muted with colours severely dulled down and lacking pop.
Much like the film itself which has no dramatic events left to explore after the original covered, almost in its entirety , the broad sweep of the monarch’s life. Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook reprise their roles as Victoria and Albert but the screenplay finds it impossible to surmount the major problem that all the interesting moments in the life of the queen were covered in the first film.
This leaves the screenplay by the original writing team of Miles Malleson and Charles De Grandcourt to pick at the scraps which were deemed to be too lacking in nutritional value to be included last time around. This results in a film completely lacking in any drama or tension which gets horribly bogged down in portraying the boring minutiae of a royal existence. Victoria prudishly frets about the propriety of letting Albert see her with her hair in curls or waltzing in public (with her husband, no less) as a married woman.
When not fretting about her potentially obscene conduct or having to listen with wide-eyed wonder as Albert mansplains both the domestic political situation and her own emotional responses to life in general she is reduced to presenting the dance prizes at a Highland Games, handing out medals to deserving survivors of the Crimean War and watching the world’s worst slide show.
Neagle’s performance is very mannered and weepy although the screenplay gives her no room to breathe – so obsessed is it with portraying her as a kind of angelic demi-god rather than as a creature of flesh and blood with real thoughts, feelings and desires. Walbrook is the film’s saving grace – finding the sparkly eyed, humorously energetic core of his character while also managing to explore and convey the deep love the couple undoubtedly had for each other and the innate sadness caused by the xenophobic treatment of him by the Great British public.
All of this is shot very confidently, with access to every Royal Palace Wilcox could have conceivably wished to film at and is aided and abetted by some fantastic work from the production design crew. Each item of furniture and clothing seems to have been painstakingly based on real museum pieces which the Royal Family had used and worn during the time-frame of the narrative. As a visual spectacle, it certainly wouldn’t disappoint an audience who just want to bathe in the opulent glory of the monarchy to dull their own cares for a few hours.
The other problems the film runs into are very much of the time but no more palatable for that. At the Diamond Jubilee celebrations (already covered in Victoria the Great so dealt with very quickly here and then described in infuriating detail by Victoria to her ill maidservant who couldn’t attend) there is a classic performance by some black-faced minstrels but more worryingly than this relatively swift racist moment is the characterisation of Benjamin Disraeli.
He was of Jewish origin although his father left the Jewish faith and Disraeli became an Anglican but the simple knowledge of his heritage is enough for the writers and actor Derrick De Marney to portray him as a stereotypical, hook-nosed schemer overly concerned with money and disturbingly lecherous in his interactions with the Queen. The performance positions him as unashamedly creepy, sly and deceitful around money although since his underhand dealings are all for the glory of the British Empire they are implicitly supported in the end in what the filmmaker’s must have believed was a positive step.
The original film is watchable enough and arguably more atmospheric with its black and white cinematography than the slightly grubby technicolor sheen of this intensely dull look at the day to day life of a queen over more than half a century of mind-numbing boredom.