There is no denying that George Arliss's position as a leading star of movies has declined precipitously in the last half century. That he appeared in historical films where he was involved with great events, and bringing fictional lovers together, is used as a joke to dismiss him. Only when studying his actual performances does one realize that his restrained acting was a tremendous advance over the thumping scenary tearing of the silent period. If you doubt this, look at his performance in THE IRON DUKE. Although too short to play Wellington, he does the best with the role. In the film he has to confront the French royal court after the judicial murder of Marshal Ney (1815). The actor playing Louis XVIII is overacting incredibly, and Arliss knows it. Look at the fierce disapproval in his face in that scene.
Here, he is playing Armand Du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu, the real ruler of France from 1626 to 1642 (the titular ruler was King Louis XIII - here Edward Arnold, splendid but wasted in a small role). Richelieu took a France, long weakened by religious wars (although it had begun a good recovery under King Henri IV and his minister Sully), and made it the supreme power in Western Europe, at the expense of Charles I of England, the Germans in the Thirty Years War (he paid off the King of Sweden to prolong the war), and Spain. Richelieu is usually considered a villain in movies (like THE THREE MUSKETEERS) but he was the creator of modern France. Arliss does very well in the role, bringing the patriotism and brilliance of the cardinal out - and he also happens (for a change) to look like Richelieu. But what makes this performance most interesting is that the film captures a 19th Century theatrical workhorse - Edward Bulwer-Lytton's play RICHELIEU. It was one of the most popular "modern" plays in English and American theatre in the 19th Century, and had been performed by Edwin Booth among others. The key scene for whoever played the Cardinal was "the Curse of Rome" Scene, where Richelieu warns of the wrath of the Papacy if anything happens to him. Arliss delivers this in the film - the sole example of this 19th Century acting moment in film.
24 of 25 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?