Home Classic Movies ‘Cavalcade’ Movie: Noël Coward Homage to Motherland Britannia

‘Cavalcade’ Movie: Noël Coward Homage to Motherland Britannia


Cavalcade with Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook (upstairs), and Herbert Mundin and Una O’Connor (downstairs).

Synopsis:

  • Upstairs, Robert and Jane Marryot (Clive Brook, Diana Wynyard), and downstairs, Alfred and Ellen Bridges (Herbert Mundin, Una O’Connor), in a British household, from 1900 to 1933.

The Pros:

  • Cavalcade won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for the period 1932-33 (basically from Aug. 1932–Dec. 1933) and was reportedly the biggest box office hit of 1933, grossing more than $3.5 million (approx. $121 million today*). That makes it a historical curiosity.
  • Best Actress Oscar nominee Diana Wynyard has one remarkable moment, walking among armistice revelers but not feeling at all like celebrating after having lost a son to the Great War. Noel Coward, for his part, called Wynyard’s performance “sincere and beautiful … as I had hoped to see in the picturisation of my play. I think I shall always see her standing in Trafalgar Square or saying goodbye to the last of her sons at the station. Yes, Jane-Diana-Marryot-Wynyard will always live for me, as I am sure she will for all those who go to see Cavalcade.” (As an aside: Mary Clare played Jane Marryot on the London stage.)
  • One of the last scenes, showing the decadent 1930s, features a gay couple. That’s another historical curiosity, especially considering that Noel Coward himself was not only very gay, but very “decadently” fey as well.

The Cons:

  • Most of the cast is highly theatrical, while the generally capable Frank Lloyd’s direction is mostly stagebound. True, this is based on a Noel Coward play, but a little more naturalism would have greatly enhanced the melodrama’s effectiveness.
  • Cavalcade is an unabashed paean to the indestructibility of Mother England: mere people fight and love, work and play, live and die; tribal wars and world wars come and go, ships hit icebergs and sink, beloved queens die and turn to dust just like their lowliest subjects – but Forever England. If that’s your cup of afternoon tea, then Cavalcade is the movie for you.

The Question Mark:

In Sum:

  • I’d say that Cavalcade wouldn’t be much appreciated today chiefly because its theatricality is too stolid to have much camp value. But you should probably check it out because of its place in Oscar (and movie) history.

* Box office figures were adjusted according to boxofficemojo.com‘s “inflation-adjusted” chart, which, though hardly infallible, gives at least an approximation of a decades-old production box office success in modern “terms.” Bear in mind that the inflation-adjusted figures can be iffy; Cavalcade, for instance, was a Fox release that reportedly made most of its money in urban areas, where ticket prices were more expensive than the national average.

Noel Coward quote: Barry Day’s Coward on Film: The Cinema of Noel Coward, via Anthony Slide’s Frank Lloyd: Master of Screen Melodrama. Slide’s book is also the source for Cavalcade‘s $3.5 million gross. Its budget was $1.3 million.

CAVALCADE (1933). Director: Frank Lloyd. Screenplay: Reginald Berkeley, Sonya Levien; from Noel Coward’s 1931 play. Cast: Clive Brook, Diana Wynyard, Herbert Mundin, Una O’Connor, Beryl Mercer, Irene Browne, Merle Tottenham, Frank Lawton, Ursula Jeans, Margaret Lindsay.

2 comments

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2 comments

Mitchell -

In the 30’s scene of Cavalcade there is not one but two gay couples.

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Andre -

Oh, thanks. Gotta take a look at that scene again.

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