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The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Approved | | Biography, Drama, History | 11 November 1939 (USA)
3:28 | Trailer

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A depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.



(screen play), (screen play) (as Aeneas MacKenzie) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 5 Oscars. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Mistress Margaret Radcliffe (as Nanette Fabares)
Sir Edward Coke


This period drama frames the tumultuous affair between Queen Elizabeth I and the man who would be King of England, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Ever the victor on the battlefield, Devereux returns to London after defeating Spanish forces at Cadiz. Middle-aged Elizabeth, so attracted to the younger Devereux but fearful of his influence and popularity, sends him on a new mission: a doomed campaign to Ireland. When he and his troops return in defeat, Devereux demands to share the throne with the heir-less queen, and Elizabeth, at first, intends to marry. Ultimately sensing the marriage would prove disastrous for England, Elizabeth sets in motion a merciless plan to protect her people and preserve her throne. Written by IMDb Editors

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Elizabeth I's love for the Earl of Essex threatens to destroy her kingdom.


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

11 November 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Elizabeth and Essex  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


According to syndicated newspaper reporter Sheilah Graham, the gowns worn by Bette Davis weighed as much as 60 pounds, and under the studio lights, Davis was loosing two or three pounds per day while working on this film. See more »


The real Robert Cecil was small and had a curved spine, and was one of Queen Elizabeth's chief counselors, not the supercilious character portrayed in this film, or in Maxwell Anderson's original play. The queen would affectionately refer to him as "my dwarf". He is more accurately portrayed in the TV miniseries Elizabeth I. See more »


Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex: [after being slapped hard by Queen Elizabeth I] I would not have taken that from your father the King; much less will I take it from a king in petticoats!
See more »


Featured in Between Two Worlds: Erich Wolfgang Korngold (2001) See more »


Love's Answer
Lyrics by Walter Raleigh
Sung by Olivia de Havilland (dubbed by Faith Kruger)
Lute playing dubbed by an anonymous lutist
See more »

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User Reviews

Excellent Flynn Performance!Davis Greatest actress!
10 June 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Private lives of Elizabeth and Essex has been one of my favorite films for some time and just goes to show that one should look at these old films rather than believe what the biographers and critics state without examination. I have read that Errol Flynn was poor in this film,but that is in serious error,IMO! He does an outstanding job in this role and his doomed romanticism MAKES the film what it is. There is no story if the audience does not believe in the love affair, and Flynn convinces in this category. He holds his own with Powerhouse Davis, and that is saying something(watch her chew up Henry Fonda in Jezebel for e.g.)! His naturalness and ease on screen are very appealing, and there is no one more handsome in such costumes. He seems very much the courtier and lover. Very underrated thespian-he is elite here in a difficult role. Bette's pyrotechnics are a marvelous counterpoint to Errol's subtle ways-she is the Greatest movie actress,period. And, they did have sexual chemistry in this film, despite personal antipathy. Great stuff!

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