In New England circa 1933, a niece is reported missing and presumed dead and Cabot Barr (George Arliss) summons his relatives to the family estate for a memorial service. Once there, Barr ... See full summary »
Edna May Oliver,
The Iron Duke is a delightful show by George Arliss as the famous Duke of Wellington. Don't expect a factual biographical film here though. This covers a few months leading up to and the aftermath of his most famous battle, that of Waterloo where he pulled out a victory over Napoleon Bonaparte with the aid of the Prussian army. It was the last battle for both Napoleon and Wellington. Wellington who was never anything but realistic said that Waterloo was a "close run thing".
There's a film Waterloo that came out in 1969 with Rod Steiger as Napoleon Bonaparte and Christopher Plummer as Wellington. It fits the conception I've had of Wellington far more than what George Arliss does here.
Saying that however Arliss is always a treat. When a coalition is finally put together that of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia that finally takes Bonaparte down the film opens with these Allies enjoying the spoils of victory and deciding how to cut up Europe. But party pooper that he was Bonaparte escapes from his exile in the Mediterranean Isle of Elba and rallies the troops once again that were loyal to him, but are now supposed to be working for the interests of the restored Bourbon monarchy of Louis XVIII played by Alan Aynesworth.
In particular Marshal Ney who swore he would bring his former commander to the king in a cage went right over to him and fought at Waterloo at his side. Ney is played here by Edmund Willard and history has made him a figure of sympathy. It is true that Wellington tried to save him, but the restored Bourbons wanted his death as an example.
In the supporting cast standing out is Gladys Cooper playing the French Duchess of Angoulheme and niece of the king. She wants total revenge on those who still advocate for the principles of the French Revolution which event eventually culminated in the Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. This is one woman who one dares not cross and Arliss knows he wouldn't cross her if he didn't have an army of his own.
Both Wellington and Napoleon were born in 1769 and these events happen in 1815 when he was 46. Arliss was 20 years older and would have made a great Wellington who was the ornament of young Queen Victoria's court in the 1840s when he was the national hero. Wellington was a skirt chaser and that aspect of his character is fully brought out. Then as now heroes have their groupies. Although not in this version I suspect Arliss played Wellington when he was younger in the theater as he did Disraeli. He did a few of his choice roles for the silent and talking cinema and I'll bet Wellington was one he might have done when he was younger.
Arthur Wellesley (1769 to 1855) is a character worthy of a mini-series. It was a life of considerable military and political achievement that was far more than the events shown here. But Arliss is a treat as always.
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