Fire Over England (1937)

Fire Over EnglandFire Over England Poster
Directed by William K. Howard
Written by Clemence Dane and Sergei Nolbandov based on a novel by A.E.W. Mason
London Film Productions

First viewing


Vivien Leigh remembers: “I was making Fire Over England then, and Larry was in it too. Flora Robson was playing Queen Elizabeth. It was in that film that Larry and I met, too. I wonder whether-if the film was shown again-you would see it in our faces, the confrontation with our destiny. I don’t think I have ever lived quite as intensely ever since. I don’t remember sleeping, ever; only every precious moment that we spent together.”

Flora Robson just might be my favorite Elizabeth I ever.  She, and a chance to see Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh at the height of their physical beauty, made this a fairly enjoyable experience.

It is 1588 and relations between Spain and England are at the breaking point.  English pirates regularly plunder Spanish treasure ships and Spain is said to be building an armada for an attack on the island.  The Spanish capture English pirate Sir Richard Ingolby who is sailing with his son Michael (Laurence Olivier).  Michael manages to escape and takes refuge with a Spanish nobleman and his daughter but the father is hauled away and burned by the Inquisition.

Michael is left with a burning hatred for the Spanish.  Despite the protests of his lady love (Vivien Leigh), when he returns to England he takes on a dangerous spy mission to Spain to uncover the names of the traitors that are plotting to assassinate the Queen.  With Raymond Massey as Philip II of Spain,  Leslie Banks as a loyal English courtier, and an almost unrecognizable James Mason in one of his very first roles as a traitor.

Fire Over England

This average costume drama comes alive every time Flora Robson is on screen.  Fortunately, this is fairly frequently.  I loved the scene when Elizabeth takes her wig off and looks at her aging face in a mirror.  Otherwise, things proceed just about how one would expect.


4 thoughts on “Fire Over England (1937)

  1. It doesn’t seem fair that two people could be as beautiful as Leigh and Olivier and this is where they fell in love….her more than him I’m afraid. It has been said that she was obsessed with him her whole life and went by the title Lady Olivier after he was knighted and they were divorced. They are equally as amazing in “That Hamilton Woman” which is my favorite of their films.
    I liked this movie and Flora Robson was indeed perfect as Elizabeth I….most actresses that have portrayed her were made to look somewhat glamorous which was not the case and Robson, not a pretty woman but a helluva’ actress, was perfectly cast. I’m not much for costume movies but this was worthwhile and deserves a second viewing.

    • An interesting tidbit about Leslie Banks…..did you ever notice that his face looked odd at certain angles? When the First World War broke out, he served with the Essex Regiment 1914-1918. He received injuries that left his face partially scarred and paralyzed. In his acting career he would use this injury to good effect by showing the unblemished side of his face when playing comedy or romance and the scarred, paralyzed side of his face when playing drama or tragedy. He, like Herbert Marshall who lost a leg in WWI, made the best of a bad situation and went on to acting success.

      • I think I may have spotted a flash of the burned side in this one, though it was mostly hidden. My favorite of Banks’s roles may be in The Most Dangerous Game.

    • If I had a gun held to my head and was forced to pick the single most beautiful actress of 1930’s cinema, it would be Vivien Leigh. Admittedly, Garbo would be a serious contender but Leigh has the edge with me.

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