Queen Elizabeth I (Dame Flora Robson) is running this show. The men in her court should be thinking about how to add to the glory of the Elizabethan Age and how to foil those pesky Spanish who have far too much influence in England when her older sister Mary was on the throne, after their father Henry VIII was succeeded by their sickly half-brother. Elizabeth thinks Michael Ingolby (Sir Laurence Olivier) can do great things. Michael is mostly thinking about one of Elizabeth's ladies in waiting, Cynthia (Vivien Leigh). Soon his mind is on survival when Elizabeth sends him on a voyage to Spain.Written by
Dale O'Connor <email@example.com>
There is not real film about the events leading to Philip II's great enterprise of 1588, the sailing (and destruction, as it turned out) of the great Spanish Armanda. To understand the story would take too many twists and turns. I recommend Garrett Mattingley's classic account of the Armada from the 1950s for those interested. Philip, tired of the aid that Elizabeth I of England gave to the Dutch and French Protestants, made a plan to transport an army under his nephew, Alexander Farnese, Duke of Palma, from Belgium to England using the Armada. He put the fleet under command of the Spanish nobleman, the Duke of Medina Sidonia. But Medina Sidonia was not a sailor (although a conscientious nobleman and servant of Philip). The Armada would first suffer a raid (by Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake). After it was repaired it did sail, only to find the faster English ships of Drake, Howard, and Frobisher more deadly, and the heavy winds, seas, and storms even deadlier. Many ships were wrecked off Scotland and Ireland. It was one of the worst naval catastrophes of history.
However it was also Philip's finest moment. Always a firmly religious man, he did not despair at the disaster to his fleet and plans, but he saw it was God's will. He actually put together Armadas again twice in the 1590s, but neither got as far as the first one did.
The complications of the story make it too confusing for anything but a full television seris: Philip was spurred on when Mary, Queen of Scots was executed in 1587 - he had been named her appointed heir to the English throne in her will; the French religious wars were approaching a critical moment, and Mary's uncle (the Duc de Guise) was leader of the Catholic forces at war with King Henri III of France and King Henri of Navarre (the leader of the Huguenots). There have been films dealing with Elizabeth's sea rovers, such as Drake ("Seven Seas To Calais", "The Sea Hawke"), but only this film tries to tackle the actual story of the Armada. As an adventure story it is excellent. As history, not exact but pretty good in parts.
First it does touch briefly on Mary's execution, in an early scene where one of Mary's servants tries to assassinate Elizabeth (Flora Robson). It really concentrates on the complex world of Elizabethan spying and the Elizabethan Catholic "underworld". The latter is an unfair description, for the Catholics were being persecuted in England. They had been supporters of Mary, and now that she was killed they gave support (mostly begrudgingly) to Philip. England's master of spies was Sir Francis Walsingham (who does not appear in this film). Instead the espionage against Spain is handled by Robert, Earl of Leicester (Leslie Banks) in the film - but in fact, Leicester died in 1587 in Holland, so he was not around for the Armada.
Lawrence Olivier is splendid in this early role as the young agent sent to spy on Philip and his plan (going in place of James Mason, who committed suicide in trying to avoid arrest). Olivier manages to get close to Philip (Raymond Massey) but that is not fully possible. Philip does not even like Englishmen, but he is willing to go along with the Catholics to get rid of Elizabeth and her regime. Philip is not easy to fool, and in a marvelous (almost comic moment) he stops Olivier from disclosing anything by finding that there was one name Olivier does not know that he should.
I won't go into the rest of the film's story. Watch it to see how Olivier still manages to escape and save England, and end up with his love (Vivian Leigh). For a 1937 historic film it is quite good, even if it could not tell the completely true story of the invasion of 1588.
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