THE SWORD AND THE ROSE plays fast and loose with history, but delivers a sumptuous and entertaining 93 minutes of escapism into another time and place, here England in the early 1500’s. The third of four live-action history & legend based pictures Walt Disney made in England, this one fiddled fancy into fact around Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII, and her favored swain Charles Brandon.
The becoming ‘English rose’ Mary Tudor (Glynis Johns) falls for Charles Brandon (Richard Todd), the somewhat impudent, certainly dashing Captain of the Guards. Her brother the King (James Robertson Justice) is bemused by Brandon, but piqued when Mary secretly tries to ship out with Brandon to America. Smitten and jealous, the power-plotting Duke of Buckingham (Michael Gough) has his own designs on Mary, and with Brandon jailed in the Tower of London, she’s spirited away to wed the King of France. This simply won’t do.
“You must forgive the Lady Mary, my Lords. The sudden shock of great events has quite disordered the delicate maiden balance of her mind.”
Lawrence Edward Watkin wrote the fanciful yet literate and witty screenplay, based on Charles Major’s 1898 novel “When Knighthood Was In Flower” (like the script, the well-loved book was also fiddlesticking with pesky facts), and Walt hired Ken Annakin to direct, having already piloted The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. He O.K.’d lavishing $2,000,000 on the location shooting, the plush tones of Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography doing justice to the 62 matte paintings Peter Ellenshaw designed for accenting the backgrounds. Clifton Parker gave it a flamboyant music score.
Johns is ravishing, radiating charm and spirit. Todd makes a suitable hero, gallant and resourceful but not infallible. Justice booms heartily, occasionally almost with enough gusto to crack speakers. A key supporting role is put over with sly humor by John Mercure as King Louis XII of France, besotted and over-matched by the beguiling Mary. The script, historical tweaking to the side, contains a few well handled action scenes, but for a Disney film it’s pretty complicated and talkative; as Leonard Maltin commented in his book “The Disney Films”, the wittier ripostes were such that they lay “beyond the comprehension of the typical Disney fan”, as in children. That likely accounts for it only doing $3,000,000 business in the States (better elsewhere).
With Jane Barrett, Peter Copley, Gerard Oury and Rosalie Crutchley (a vituperative Catherine of Aragon).
* Walt liked Lawrence Edward Watkin: he wrote screenplays for seven other Disney features: Treasure Island, The Story Of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, Rob Roy: the Highland Rogue, The Great Locomotive Chase, The Light In The Forest, Darby O’Gill and the Little People and Ten Who Dared.
Lord Disney also was highly impressed by designer Peter Ellenshaw, who had already graced Treasure Island and the Robin Hood movie with his matte work. After his lovely work for The Sword and the Rose (those castles are wonderful), Walt gave him what amounted to a lifelong contract with the Mouse King: his beautifully rendered artistry decorating one Disney classic after another.
Loyalty and service rewarded, Annakin next directed Rob Roy: the Highland Rogue (with Todd, Johns and Justice) and later the huge hit Swiss Family Robinson.