In 1845 London, the Barrett family is ruled with an iron fist by its stern widowed patriarch, Edward Moulton-Barrett. His nine grown children are afraid of him more than they love him. One of his rules is that none of his children are allowed to marry, which does not sit well with youngest daughter Henrietta as she loves and wants to marry Captain Surtees Cook. Of the nine, the one exception is his daughter Elizabeth, who abides faithfully to her father's wishes. Elizabeth does not think too much about the non-marriage rule as she has an unknown chronic illness which has kept her bedridden. She feels her life will not be a long one. With her time, she writes poetry, which she shares by correspondence with another young poet, Robert Browning. Elizabeth's outlook on her life changes when she meets Mr. Browning for the first time, he who has fallen in love with her without even having met her. She, in return, falls in love with him after their meeting. With Mr. Browning's love and ...Written by
Laughton is brilliant, but film could have used more of Robert and Elizabeth's relationship
The love story between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett is legendary, and her 'Sonnets from the Portuguese' contains some of the beautiful love poetry ever written. They were both already established poets when they began corresponding, but she was an invalid, and had doubts and insecurities that he helped overcome with steady, persistent, genuine love. What I had forgotten about their story was how poorly her father behaved towards her and the rest of his children, and this movie really shows us that, in what appears to be a pretty accurate way.
Charles Laughton is brilliant as the overbearing, controlling, overprotective, borderline incestuous Mr. Barrett, father of 12, whose wife had passed away, and whose own frustrations in love had led him to forbid his children to marry. He's hard to watch at times, but certainly gives the best performance, and the movie is probably more about his inability to let his children go – indeed, he disinherited each one who married – than it is about the extraordinary love between Robert and Elizabeth, though Frederic March and Norma Shearer do have some tender scenes. I enjoyed watching it, but I suppose that's the reason I didn't give a higher rating. How much better would it have been had they incorporated even more of their relationship, and some of their letters and poetry. The movie would be remade 23 years later by the same director, Sidney Franklin, and would be a great choice to be remade (with script changes) again today.
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