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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:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


The sixth of nine movies made together by Warner Brothers' romantic couple Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. 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 The Adventures of Errol Flynn (2005) See more »


The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (Come Live With Me and Be My Love)
(posthumous 1599) (uncredited)
:yrics by Christopher Marlowe
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Played on piano by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and sung by Nanette Fabray
See more »

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User Reviews

The Elizabeth of legend
7 December 2005 | by (New York, NY) – See all my reviews

This picture, based on Maxwell Anderson's play (written entirely in blank verse!) portrays the Elizabeth of legend, not the historical Elizabeth, in this case based on Lytton Strachey's book, "Elizabeth and Essex". In other words, this is more a theatrical than a strictly accurate presentation of the great queen and her times.

And what a presentation! Lynn Fontanne portrayed Elizabeth in the play's original Broadway run; Judith Anderson played her in the 1968 television presentation (opposite Charlton Heston!). Davis takes the part (re-written for the picture, discarding the blank verse) over the top. Her overactive, explosive performance might seem too much to some, but it definitely matches the style of the play itself, the sumptuous settings, gorgeously photographed, the historically accurate costuming, and Korngold's splashy, brilliant score, one of his best creations.

The supporting cast matches her at every turn. Even Flynn's performance, dismissed at the time as being lightweight, comes across as the ideal foil to the tempestuous, aging queen he's playing against.

Quite a treat, even after almost seventy years. Definitely of its time, but, understanding this, it can be thoroughly enjoyed.

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