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Coronation fever struck on both sides of the Atlantic in 1953 with the crowning of Elizabeth II on June 2. MGM planned its release of Young Bess (1953) to coincide with the public's fascination with royalty. The film weaves a fictionalized account of Queen Elizabeth I's early years and offers a romantic explanation of why the Queen never married.
Based on a book by Margaret Irwin, the story of Young Bess plays it a little loose with the facts, but to good dramatic effect. For example, in Young Bess Elizabeth (Jean Simmons) is in love with Thomas Seymour (Stewart Granger), but sacrifices her feelings by making Seymour marry her stepmother Catherine Parr. But according to the history books, Catherine was already married to Seymour before Elizabeth knew him. And though the exact nature of Elizabeth and Seymour's relationship remains unclear, Seymour did indeed propose to Elizabeth after Catherine died. She, however, declined the offer, and upon his death, the future queen was reported to have commented, "Today died a man of much wit and very little judgment." Not quite the star-crossed love story that is depicted in Young Bess.
All of Hollywood's royalty, from Elizabeth Taylor to Deborah Kerr, were considered for the role of Young Bess before Jean Simmons won the part. Deborah Kerr graciously agreed to take the supporting role of stepmother Catherine Parr. Charles Laughton, who had previously played Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), appears once again as the much troubled monarch. And Simmon's real life husband, Stewart Granger, plays love interest Seymour.
Granger (whose real name was James Stewart) and Simmons met in 1946 while working on the picture Caesar and Cleopatra. They would meet again over a year later, with Simmons now a grown up eighteen. Granger soon became Jean's advisor, at one point counseling her not to take the role of Ophelia in Hamlet (1948), opposite Laurence Olivier, for fear of being typecast. Needless to say, Simmons didn't always listen to Granger's advice. She went on to receive an Oscar nomination for the part.
The relationship soon turned to romance, and the couple appeared in a film together in 1949 that reflected their own situation. In Adam and Evelyne Granger plays a man in love with a younger woman. A few years later, after divorcing his first wife, Granger and Jean married on December 20, 1950. He was 27. The bride was 21.
Simmons said of her scenes with Granger in Young Bess, "I feel more self-conscious about playing love scenes with him now, than I did before we were man and wife." But the chemistry flourished on screen. And the young queen and her dashing Seymour live on as a royal romance for the ages.
Producer: Sidney A. Franklin
Director: George Sidney
Screenplay: Jan Lustig, Arthur Wimperis
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Film Editing: Ralph Winters
Original Music: Miklos Rozsa
Principal Cast: Jean Simmons (Young Bess), Stewart Granger (Thomas Seymour), Deborah Kerr (Catherine Parr), Charles Laughton (King Henry VIII), Kay Walsh (Mrs. Ashley), Guy Rolfe (Ned Seymour), Cecil Kellaway (Mr. Parry), Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Mums).
C-113m. Closed captioning
by Stephanie Thames
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