From the year of many great films, 1939, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex stars Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in the title roles. The plot revolves around the ill-fated love of the Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and Queen Elizabeth. She is middle-aged at this point in her reign and Essex is the up-and-coming young military hero whom the people of England admire.

Elizabeth is torn between her many duties as queen and her love for the earl. She is frustrated and wishes she could stop loving Essex. They constantly quarrel because Essex is one of the few people who isn’t afraid to stand up to the queen. He questions her authority as queen and feels a  man would be better suited to rule England.

In the backdrop of their love affair is the war with Spain. Elizabeth appoints Essex to a position that would keep him away from the battlefield and with her in London. But Essex is tricked by his court enemies into asking to be allowed to go to Ireland to fight. Even knowing he may die, she lets him go.

While he is away, their letters to each other are intercepted and Essex believes she had abandoned him and his army. She believes he is purposefully ignoring her and becomes angry once again. After disobeying her orders once again, Essex takes the remainder of his army and marches on England.

When he arrives in court, Elizabeth tries to remind him of her love, but Essex still wants to marry her and take part of her throne. After realizing his desire for power has not changed, she orders his executed.

Davis is positively fearsome as Queen Elizabeth. She portrays every emotion excellently as she goes from smashing mirrors to comforting to a lady-in-waiting whose lover is away in the army. She portrays the inner turmoil the Queen feels as she makes difficult decisions. She was rumored to receive an Oscar nod for Private Lives, but instead she received one for Dark Victory that same year.

Flynn is perfect in the role of the brash, young Essex. At one point, while in counsel with the queen and other advisors, Essex even winks at the queen.

Olivia de Havilland is also great in the smaller role of Lady Penelope. Penelope also loves Essex and schemes to drive a wedge between Elizabeth and him. This role is quite different than the other famous role she had also in 1939. De Havilland is convincing as both the sneaky lady-in-waiting and the sweet Melanie from Gone with the Wind.

For lovers of classic film and period dramas, this fantastic Technicolor achievement is one of the best.

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