To Grow Up To Greatness Was a Miracle

Posted: 04/06/2013 in 1953


To be sure, George Sidney’s Young Bess is a pleasant late spring surprise. What begins as a rather Disney-style costume drama quickly becomes a scandalous story of pre-Elizabethan era court intrigue. What is presented to us is the evolution of who would later be one of the greatest monarchs in European history, and some of it develops into a convincing story. As much as Elizabeth begins as largely flat character, as this film progresses, Jean Simmons lifts this role off the ground and at times even takes it to soaring heights. Although Young Bess is not a beginning to end masterpiece, I much prefer a film like this that starts off weak and progresses into something very good over a film that starts off promising and ends as a bit of a letdown.

The two things that save this film are cast and the later moments of the script. Jean Simmons really does dive into the role of the young Elizabeth as the plot of the film develops. Miss Simmons really does add flesh to an at times dry bones role, and for that she is to be commended. In fact, she has some genuine money scenes down towards the end. Those money scenes largely take place in the heat of the love story between her and Admiral Tom Seymour, and it is this love story (really love triangle) that makes Young Bess shine. This love triangle does not sparkle, however, without the excellent supporting work of Stewart Granger as Tom. This really has been the year (so far) of strong male supporting roles, and Mr. Granger is no exception. In fact, I dare say he’s the best thing about this film. Deborah Kerr holds her own as Catherine Parr as well. Realistically, for the most part this is an ensemble that works very well. One cannot help but consider what a mess of a family Henry VIII created, and it is fascinating to watch the royal family in such disarray.

While the adapted screenplay is not flawless, is it progresses it does redeem itself from its rather lackluster beginning. In the end it is a surprising well directed and well written film. The costumes are spot on, the set design was very well arranged, and one must admit we may have another awards contender on our hand here. I am not sure if Jean Simmons will but overshadowed by meatier performances later in the year, or if Stewart Granger’s performance will hold up against the depth that Jack Palance brought to the screen, but Young Bess will likely at least be part of the conversation come year’s end.

*** ~AOS

Up next, travel further back in time with Julius Caesar.


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