Had this film been produced in America there can be no doubt that Emil Jannings would have collected the 1935 Oscar as best actor for his role as Frederick William I of Prussia. His performance was simply mesmerizing. Every scene is illuminated by his presence and the impact of his delivery makes one rethink the whole history of this much discussed period.
Known as the 'Soldier King', Frederick William has often been dismissed as an authoritarian ogre; an archetypal Prussian whose absolute rule terrorized his Court and his family. But the truth is certain to be more detailed than such a basic caricature. There was an honorable and well designed purpose to his ruthless authority and this production allows us to learn and experience that wisdom through the eyes of his more famous son, Frederick II (the Great).
Of course the restrictions of 1935 Nazi Germany prevented the clear depiction of young Frederick's homosexuality but allusions to it are clearly made. When standing before his father many years after the execution of his lover, young Federick reminds the old king of his torment. "Every night and every day I see Katte before me Your Majesty" explains the Crown Prince, "in fact he stands between us now." Wonderful stuff. A must see for all students of German history.
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