'A Glass of Water' is the extremely prosaic title of this elaborate Decla-Bioscop costume drama. I saw the film in October 2007 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy; they screened a print (with the original German titles) from the Murnau archive in Wiesbaden.
This movie reminded me of an Ernst Lubitsch film, but unfortunately without the legendary Lubitsch touch. Like several Lubitsch movies, 'A Glass of Water' is a comedy dealing with the amorous and sexual shenanigans of royalty and nobility ... but the pacing and tone are much heavier and slower here than in a typical Lubitsch work.
The action (what there is of it) takes place in the court of England's Queen Anne (Mady Christians) during the War of Succession. The central figure here is handsome and dashing John Masham, who is in love with young Abigail, a commoner. However, both Her Majesty and the Duchess of Marlborough (Lucie Höflich) have set their crowns and/or coronets for Masham, and are determined to get him into their panniers.
Poncing into this intrigue comes a schemer whom the German intertitles identify as one 'Heinrich von Bolingbroke'. I assume that this is actually Henry St John, first Viscount Bolingbroke: an actual historic figure from the time of Queen Anne. Given that this film was made by a German studio for a German-speaking audience, it makes sense that the title cards are written in German. However, since several of the main characters in this movie are (apparently) actual figures from English history, they ought to have been identified by their actual English names or titles, not German translations.
Anyhow, Bolingbroke and the Duchess are rivals for the Queen's favour, so Bolingbroke comes up with a scheme to use Masham for his own (Bolingbroke's) benefit. It's no surprise that all ends happily for Masham and Abigail.
I had difficulty staying awake through this movie. The opening credits identify it as based on a stage play; apparently the play -- 'Le verre d'eau' by one Eugène Scribe -- was written circa 1840, and this movie certainly feels like it. 'A Glass of Water' is creaky, dull and extremely stagey.
The art direction, by the brilliant Hermann Warm and someone named Rudolf Bamberger, is elaborate and detailed: Warm and Bamberger go to great lengths to recreate the clothing and architecture of Queen Anne's time. Unfortunately, we have the usual problem of period productions: everything is too clean, and the actors' teeth are too good (even though this is a German film). The actresses are clearly unaccustomed to the elaborate and heavy garments of Queen Anne's time.
A lot of effort went into this comedy, but to little effect. My rating: 3 out of 10.
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