Friday, May 20, 2016

British History in Film | The Black Rose (1950)

I couldn't find any movies about King John's son, Henry III, so I skipped ahead to his grandson, Edward. He was a tall dude for his time, so he's best known by his nickname, Edward Longshanks. The Black Rose doesn't focus on him, but he does play an important role in the story.

The movie plays up the Norman-Saxon conflict in a way that's probably not historically accurate. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that the dust had settled on that long before Edward's time. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there were lingering feelings of resentment among some folks, but The Black Rose has it as an official system of oppression with the Saxons ready to rebel against their Norman overlords.

The main character is Tyrone Power's Walter of Gurnie, the bastard son of a deceased Saxon who was married to a Norman woman. There's a lot of stuff early in the movie that's meant to show how unfair the system is to poor Walter, but that's all prologue to the real adventure in which Walter and his friend Tristam get fed up and leave England to seek their fortunes in China. There they meet a Mongol warlord played by Orson Welles and get involved in a plot to rescue a young woman (nicknamed The Black Rose) from a harem under the warlord's protection.

The movie is overly long, but the big problem with it is that I don't like Walter. With all that oppression being heaped on him, it shouldn't be hard to make him sympathetic, but he comes off as entitled and a baby about the whole thing. Tristam is pretty great though. He's an archer of Robin Hood-like skill who accompanies Walter more out of love for his friend than for any personal grudge against England. I also really like Welles' crafty warlord who has a great balance of ruthlessness and amiability.

One of the ways that Walter is oppressed in the early part of the story is that his father's will put Walter into the service of the Norman King Edward (played by Michael Rennie from The Day the Earth Stood Still). The Black Rose's Edward is a reasonable fellow who's primary goal is to unite his kingdom. In the movie that means putting a stop to oppression and trying to resolve the whole Norman-Saxon feud, so he ultimately rewards Walter for his adventures and comes off as a really nice guy.

Next week though, we'll look at a very different interpretation of Edward Longshanks, who's still concerned about uniting the kingdom, but in a much less benevolent way.

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