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Based on Michael Korda's bestselling interpretation of the life of legendary movie star (and his aunt) Merle Oberon, this 1987 mini-series chronicles the life of a young Eurasian woman (Mia Sara) who flees India to England, where she hides the truth of her past (including her role in the accidental death of an important British official back in India) to become a famous movie star. The script for "Queenie" is extremely melodramatic, and the time frame doesn't seem quite accurate (in part II, Queenie returns to India to make a movie that one character describes as "more expensive than Gone with the Wind"--meaning she and a large British-American entourage are trapsing across the globe to make a movie at the height of World War II!!!), but the show is quite lavish and, thanks to an energetic cast--especially the lovely Miss Sara--quite entertaining. There's also a fine score by Georges Delarue. Worth seeing if you come across it on television--I'd love to have it on DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read the other comments on this miniseries before offering my own
observations, and found that some of them inaccurately described the
plot and misunderstood the characters and their relationships. So I
wish to put the record straight and submit a fairer review.
This serial style film, lavish with luxury and escapism, is a chocolates and velvet experience, intended, I suspect, for susceptible ladies who love a weepie melodramatic love story. As such, it succeeds admirably. I am one of those ladies, always have been. I picked up the film accidentally, as one does, going cheap in a supermarket. How much more have I paid for films and not gained half the value of this one? I settled down in comfort to relish this story, loosely based on the real life story of Merle Oberon, adapted from one of her husband's (Alexander Korda) nephew's (Michael Korda) novel based on the legends /history of his beautiful aunt. Facts, re-interpreted or changed to fit the film's design, intertwine with fiction. Merle Oberon (Queenie Kelly in the film) was Anglo-Indian, did grow up in Kolkata (Calcutta), did go to England and become a film star, did marry Alexander Korda (David Konig in the film) who was, by all accounts, completely infatuated with her. She did disguise her Anglo-Indian origins, pretend she came from Tasmania, disguise her darker-skinned mother as her maid (in Hollywood: her mother died in 1937), and, after divorcing Korda in 1945, marry a cinematographer called Lucien.
The film's additional plot details make a more tantalising drama. Early on, Queenie's rape by a high-up British official in India, resulting in his death and suspicion of murder falling on Queenie, provides a strong plot-line on which to hang lots of dramatic punctuation points. Plausibility is irrelevant - who needed Bette Davis or Hitchcock dramas to be plausible? One review I read of this film described it as 'shoddy'. It is not at all shoddy. The sordid details - rape, seedy clubs and strip-tease dancers, decrepit living conditions in India for poor Anglo-Indians, race prejudice which force non-white people to hide their origins, suggestions of incest, job shortages during the Depression; - all these happened (and still happen), and often to young, pretty, and vulnerable girls at the mercy of a ruthless male world around them. Some of these things may have happened to the real Merle Oberon. We live in a world that is often shoddy.
The film itself must have cost a fortune with lavish sets and glamorous costumes, gorgeous palaces and exotic Indian location (whether the real India or made to look like it matters little), film sets within film sets. Take one glorious scene where Queenie, now Dawn Avalon (her name taken from a loved poem of her childhood) arrives in India to make a big film (The Secret Palace) and is greeted by a horde of Indian press and hoi polloi complete with decorated camels, elephants, and palaces. She looks her most beautiful and enigmatic, stylish and designer-dressed (almost like the real Merle Oberon). India is red-hot with exotic luxury, no expense spared. The fictional film 'The Secret Palace' gives a nod to 'Wuthering Heights', Merle Oberon's most famous film - the fictional end of 'The Secret Palace' mimicks the end of the 'Wuthering Heights' - a neat conceit of which there are several in this film indicating a subtlety which one doesn't usually expect from a miniseries.
Mia Sara excels herself. I had not seen her before but I thought she was lovely. She was graceful and expressive and caught the quality of erotic beauty that Merle Oberon had. Helped by the make-up and wonderful costumes she was so striking and her acting skills were evident in the way her character matured from the determined but naive young girl into a beautiful, consummate actress, somewhat manipulative, and often quite ruthless in getting what she wanted - one example of the mature Queenie was how she managed both Lucien and David Konig, and despite Konig's own ruthless pursuit of what he wanted, she kept the upper hand.
And she was supported by a galaxy of stalwart older actors with impeccable pedigrees, who presumably take these parts because they are committed actors who desire to keep working. Claire Bloom (who starred herself, so many years ago, in Charlie Chaplin's film, 'Limelight' and went on to become one of Britain's leading stage and screen acresses), in one of her stranger roles, darkened up to play Queenie's Anglo-Indian mother, Victoria, complete with appropriate Indian accent; Joss Ackland (a classic British actor) as the British high official in India, Sir Burton Rumsey, and Sara Miles (who remembers her marvellous performances in Joseph Losey's 'The Servant' and David Lean's 'Ryan's Daughter'?) as Lady Sibyl Rumsey, both of which actors play similar roles in another British empire film 'White Mischief'. Martin Balsam and Kirk Douglas (as Konig, a pseudonym for Korda) as movie moguls - what did the TV company have to pay to get them!! - and Joel Grey (remember him as the amazing Master of Cermonies in 'Cabaret'?)
I thoroughly enjoyed 'Queenie'. It doesn't pretend to be a biopic, or even a 'good movie': it does what these miniseries can do so well when they try - produce an entertaining escape out of the humdrum into the sun for a few brief hours.
Queenie is the television mini-series based on the novel by Michael
Korda who apparently likes using his famous family as subject matter.
In this one he based the lead character on his aunt by marriage, Merle
We are NOT seeing the Merle Oberon story in Queenie. Though the protagonist was Anglo-Indian this was something she kept a secret throughout her entire life, probably at great pain to herself. What Queenie does do is show the times in the Raj when she grew up in India.
Times were not easy for the real Merle or for young Mia Sara in Calcutta in the teens and twenties of the last year. For reasons that sound abominably stupid today, the British public which wanted to let India go was blocked by some very powerful folk, chiefly Winston Churchill and press magnate Lord Beaverbrook. The racist attitudes were summed up so well by Joss Ackland where he states that we can't leave India because the Moslems and Hindus will end up killing each other, but just as long as they don't bring the fight into their club. Racial and religious antagonisms which for reasons of policy both good and bad were encouraged.
Mia Sara's character is like Ava Gardner's in Bhowani Junction, struggling hard and not feeling she belongs in either British or Indian society. What Michael Korda does in the story is allow her to have a measure of pride in her heritage, something Merle Oberon could never do in her life.
But she married well and Kirk Douglas plays the fictional David Konig, the prototype for British film producer Alexander Korda. Douglas borrows liberally from his Oscar nominated role of Jonathan Shields from The Bad and the Beautiful to play Konig. I suspect there's more Shields than Korda in his performance though.
Best performances in the film are from Claire Bloom as Sara's mother and from Serena Gordon as the vicious young lady who was Ackland's daughter and her antagonist.
Queenie was done on location in Jaipur, India a city which is known for its traditional look and probably looks more like Calcutta in the twenties than Calcutta now.
I think Merle Oberon would have approved.
Contrary to some of the comments regarding Queenie's character and
ethnicity, I wish to clarify this. Queenie, (or Merle Oberon)was not a
"Eurasian". There is a vast difference between someone who is Eurasian
to that of an Anglo Indian in British India. Her mother in real life
was of Indian heritage whilst her father was British. If her father was
from another country that would have made the family "Eurasian". I say
this not for any political reasons but for historic accuracy.
I found this film most enjoyable and entertaining.The acting is superb all around. Having seen it sometime ago, I was thrilled to be able to purchase the DVD on Amazon recently.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Queenie" is a fictionalised biography of Merle Oberon, one of the most
beautiful and successful film stars of the thirties and forties.
(Oberon, whose real name was Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson, was
nicknamed "Queenie" as a child and used the stage names Queenie O'Brien
and Queenie Thompson during the early part of her career). Oberon was
born in Calcutta of mixed British and Indian parentage, and moved to
Britain as a teenager, where she worked as an exotic dancer before
becoming a leading actress and marrying the Hungarian-born film
director Alexander Korda. She was always sensitive about her mixed-race
origins, and invented a fictitious past for herself, according to which
she had been born in Tasmania, a part of the world she had never
visited. She even went so far as to pass her dark-skinned mother off as
In the film the heroine, here named Queenie Kelly, is born in Calcutta of mixed British and Indian parentage. She moves to Britain where she works as an exotic dancer (euphemism for stripper) before she is discovered by a Hungarian-born film director, here called David Konig, who makes her a star under the name Dawn Avalon and gives her the leading role in his latest movie. Like Merle Oberon, Queenie/Dawn pretends to have been born in Tasmania, and passes her mother off as her maid.
Of course, this being a fictionalised biography, there have to be some fictional elements. As far as I am aware, the real Merle Oberon was never accused of murder. In the film, Queenie is implicated in the death of a high-ranking British colonial official named Sir Burton Rumsey; the truth is that he fell accidentally to his death while pursuing her with intent to rape her, but she dare not reveal the truth for fear that she will not be believed. Queenie is pursued obsessively by the dead man's daughter Prunella, who blames her for her father's death; Queenie's adoption of a pseudonym and a false biography owes as much to a desire to throw Prunella off the scent as it does to racial sensitivities. Oberon was already a major star before her marriage to Korda, which lasted until 1945 and then ended in divorce; in the film Konig acts as Queenie's Svengali, turning her into a star and then dying of a heart attack soon afterwards (c. 1938). Konig's death leaves Queenie free to marry her true love, a photographer named Lucien; in real life Oberon's second husband was indeed a photographer named Lucien.
The 1980s saw a number of films and television series set in colonial India ("Gandhi", "A Passage to India", "The Jewel in the Crown", etc.) and, like most of the other entries in the cycle, "Queenie" deals with the topic of relations between the British colonial masters and their Indian subjects. The British characters, especially the obnoxious Rumsey and the snobbish Prunella, are portrayed as obsessively racist, prejudiced against not only pure-blooded Indians but also those who, like Queenie, have a "touch of the tarbrush", the unlovely slang phrase used at the time to denote those of mixed racial origins. Queenie is horrified to learn that the film she is starring in is an epic being shot on location in India, as she has no desire to revisit the land of her birth, which holds bad memories for her.
Eventually, however, in a key scene near the end, she proudly announces her Anglo-Indian origins- and is warmly applauded for doing so. This scene clearly reflects the values of the eighties rather than those of the thirties- in real life Merle Oberon never publicly admitted to being of Indian descent. Had she done so, it would probably have meant the end of her film career, at least as a leading lady. Indeed, she continued to insist on her supposed Australian origins right up until her death in 1979.
A word of warning. This was originally a TV mini-series, but is now being sold on DVD as if it were a feature film. When my wife (a lifelong Kirk Douglas fan) purchased it recently there was nothing on the box to indicate its origins, apart from the words (in very tiny print) "Length: 232 minutes". Of course, if one does try and watch it as though it were a film, it is slow-moving and insanely overlong (longer than, say, "Dr Zhivago" or "Titanic", and around the same length as "Gone with the Wind"). Kirk Douglas, however, is always watchable and the lovely Mia Sara makes a charming heroine. If one watches it as a mini-series, however, over a number of evenings, it becomes, in a glossy soap-opera kind of way, more enjoyable. 6/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a film that I saw on telly a few days ago. I didn't catch the first five minutes but I watched the remaining three and a half hours of it. It's the story of a girl called Queenie who is half Indian and half White growing up in a segregated Indian society. Constant war, fighting and ethnic cleansing force her grandmother to send her running from India where upon leaving for and reaching Europe, she falls into a wrong kind of relationship with a family member to whom she loses her innocence and decides to disguise herself as a White woman. She changes her name and becomes a dancer and slowing she begins to climb up the social and financial ladder. She meets a billionaire tycoon (played by Kirk Douglas) with whom they form a steady alliance and to whom she falls hopelessly in love with and he loves her too. Of course there is the young photographer who falls in love with her to create a love triangle and she loves him too as a friend until she realises how much and the way he loves her. Mia Sara plays Queenie as an adult and I've heard that this film is based on the true life story of Merle Oberon. It's a must see for everyone and is overdue to be reacted by either Hollywood or Bollywood.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an excellent TV film which actually appears to have been made
on location in India itself. Despite its incredible length of exactly 3
hours and 50 minutes, the spectator is not bored for one instant - now
how many films outside Titanic and Gone With the Wind can do that -the
answer is hardly any. I bought it a few years ago in the UK on DVD and
although the presentation is basic without boni or special features,
the picture quality is quite satisfactory though with occasional
ghosting in some scenes.
The film includes several well known actors including the "forever-beautiful-whatever-her-age" Claire Bloom. I had already noticed her in Charlie Chaplin's Limelight and Anton de Grunwald's Innocents in Paris but in Queenie she is even more beautiful. In addition, she has a very good Indian accent as well as darkened skin - difficult to remember she's actually white.
I am not going to relate the whole story as it is far too long but the spectator follows with interest Queenie's childhood in the slums of Calcutta, then travelling to UK with her uncle, finding work and rising up in life whilst her uncle comes to a sticky end through drink, and always with the interior fear that the death of a British governor in India will be pinned on her although in fact it was an accident.
Apparently, the film is supposed to be the biography of someone called Merle Oberon. I had never heard of this person and never seen her in films so I cannot comment on this. The colonial atmosphere in India is very well rendered, and I have a tendency to confuse parts of this film with David Lean's Passage to India ! This is a very entertaining film to be watched on a cold and wet winter Sunday afternoon. It is a series of trials and tribulations which the spectator follows with eagerness. Highly recommendable if you can get your hands on it whatever country you live. It is often shown on French TV under the title " Queenie, La Force d'Un Destin".
The pace was lethargic, the acting stilted and because there were some excellent actors involved, I can only assume it was the fault of the director.If you are committed to a 4 hour TV serial, it must take a lot of skill to maintain the tension. The ending was also false and typical American/Hollywood hypocrisy. Nevertheless, it told an interesting story and most certainly was not total garbage. What I do dislike, however, is "faction", when you are never sure how much you are being told, in this case about Merle Oberon, is true. Was there actually a suspicious death in India? Was her mother her servant at any time? Was she ever involved in making a film in India? If all this was fiction, as I suspect it was, then why drag Merle Oberon's name into it anyway?
Merle Oberon was a glamorous film star, one of the first, I believe, to
go on record about the wonders of plastic surgery. Unfortunately, she
was born at the wrong time to take advantage of her beauty as an older
woman or to be truthful about her real background.
"Queenie" is based on the roman a clef by her nephew, Michael Korda, and it's pure fiction except for a few items.
It's the story of an Anglo-Indian young girl, Queenie Kelly, living in India when it was under British rule. She suffered from bullying by students at the school she attended because of her mixed ethnicity. At the same time, her exotic beauty attracted male attention. At one point, when her musician brother is fired from his country club job, she goes to Sir Burton Ramsey, who owns the club, to beg for his job back. He rapes her. Running from him, he trips and falls over a balcony to his death.
Terrified no one would believe her, Queenie steals Ramsey's wallet and, with her uncle, leaves the country for England. There she works as a stripper and eventually becomes a film star. Calling herself Dawn Avalon, she can never tell anyone her true ethnicity or identity, which would ruin her career and possibly result in a murder charge.
That's the story of Queenie, but with the exception of hiding her true identity, it's not the story of Merle Oberon. Much of Oberon's early life is in question. Her mother could actually have been her grandmother, and her sister Constance her mother; her nephew claimed to have discovered he was her half-brother after researching his heritage.
In order to empathize with Oberon, the racism during these years must be addressed. With people like Freddie Washington and Anna Mae Wong denied careers, Oberon could never, ever, have admitted to being part Indian. Instead, like the character in Queenie, she claimed to have been born in Tasmania.
This miniseries is very entertaining, with Mia Sara absolutely perfect for Queenie - you could never find a double for Oberon, but Sara has Oberon's delicate, exotic looks and beautiful speaking voice. Someone said Oberon was an established star before marrying Alexander Korda, but that's not true. Korda, whom she married, not only gave her career a huge boost, but he brought her to Hollywood to work for Sam Goldwyn.
In the miniseries, Korda is "David Konig" and played by Kirk Douglas. Queenie is in love with a photographer turned cinematographer, Lucien (Gary Cady), but Konig gets him a cinematographer's job in Egypt while Queenie is filming in India. He then seduces and marries her.
The real Oberon married Korda, and after their divorce, she married cinematographer Lucien Ballard. According to a letter I have, Ballard physically abused her, as did a boyfriend later on. Ballard invented a special light for Oberon after she was in a car accident, and that light, the "obie" is still used today.
The film Queenie makes, her big debut, in the miniseries is said to cost $25 million, more than Gone with the Wind. Not likely that the movie was made during wartime in India. Also not likely that it cost 25 million since GWTW cost $3.85 million.
Claire Bloom does a beautiful job as Queenie's mother. I'm not sure if the story of her mother pretending to be her maid comes from this fictional account or actually happened. If her mother was indeed with her, it makes sense that the two would have agreed to that masquerade. In any case, Oberon adored her mother.
Though only in her fifties, like many female movie stars of her time, Oberon was relegated to low-budget films, self-produced films, and television. She did have a good role in 1967's Hotel and, at 56, was absolutely stunning. Her last film was in 1973, six years before her death. A stressful life, but a successful career that could have continued in today's world.
Queenie was filmed in Jaipur, India, with magnificent production values and a cast that includes not only Douglas and Bloom, but Topol, Joss Ackland, Martin Balsam, and Joel Grey. Recommended - it's the kind of super-expensive miniseries we saw a lot of in the '80s, and they're gone for good.
"Queenie" stars Mia Sara as a half-caste young girl in India who leaves her homeland, goes to England to be discovered, and becomes a movie star. This was inspired by the life of actress Merle Oberon, who was half-caste, and in fact, the book this was based was written by her stepson Michael Korda. I have mixed feelings about that, as his book was what is called a roman a clef, a fictional book whose main character is a real person. Her plight was the basis from which all things fictional happen in the book and therefore the movie. I feel like he profited by her private life, though none of the dramatics here really happened. Not knowing or considering the real actress, the movie is a good fast-moving and involving film with Kirk Douglas as the producer who makes her a star and Claire Bloom as her mother with very soap opera-ish melodramatics. Is that redundant? I would recommend this to anyone who didn't know about the life and career of Merle Oberon, but for those who do, it may feel a bit disrespectful of her memory to indulge in Korda's imagination and fantasy.
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