Cast & Crew
When Wheeler, a young orphan who survives as a scavenger on the mudflats of the River Thames in late nineteenth-century England, comes upon a dead man, he steals his small cameo plaque of Queen Victoria although he does not know who she is. Two other urchins try to take the cameo away from "The Mudlark" but are stopped by a night watchman, who tells him about the Queen, who is known as "The Mother of England." The night watchman also mentions that she has lived in seclusion in Windsor Castle since the death of her husband, Prince Albert, fifteen years earlier, and Wheeler, intrigued by the Queen's motherly appearance, makes his way to Windsor Castle to try to see her. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli has come to visit Victoria and tells John Brown, Prince Albert's former servant and now confidant of the Queen, of his concern about her continued seclusion. In an audience with the Queen, Disraeli informs her that the passage of an important reform program is being vigorously opposed and needs her total support and that her seclusion is creating a very negative impression. Disraeli advises her to accept an invitation to attend the one hundreth anniversary celebration of the Lambeth Foundling Hospital. However, Victoria does not wish to leave Windsor, even for a brief period, as it holds such fond memories of her late husband. Meanwhile, Wheeler enters the castle grounds, falls down a coal shute and finds his way into the Queen's private chambers. Emily Prior, the Queen's Maid of Honor, is romantically involved with Guards officer Lt. Charles McHatten, but her mother, Lady Margaret Prior, does not approve of the match due to Charles's low social standing. Charles has sought permission from Lady Margaret and the Queen to marry Emily but both forbid Emily to see Charles again. Emily responds that she will marry whom she wishes and that the Queen can no longer control her life. Wheeler, meanwhile, is discovered in the Queen's dining room by maid Kate Noonan and footman Slattery, an Irishman who tries to impress Kate by saying he is plotting against the monarchy. They hide Wheeler behind some curtains as the Queen, Disraeli and other dinner guests enter. During the dinner, Wheeler falls asleep and his snoring causes him to be discovered. As there have already been several attempts on the Queen's life, he is regarded with great suspicion. Wheeler reveals that he has overhead Slattery saying that he wanted to burn down the castle. Brown interrogates the boy but, realizing he is starving, orders him to be fed, even instructing him on the proper use of a fork. Meanwhile, Emily, who has decided to elope, leaves a note for her mother and goes to meet Charles. However, he is Officer of the Day and is summoned to question Wheeler, leaving Emily waiting in the rain. Brown, a Scot with a fondness for the national drink, takes a liking to the boy and gives him a tour of the castle, even permitting him to sit on the Queen's throne. However, they are discovered by Charles, and Wheeler is handed over to the police as a potential assassin and is held prisoner in the Tower of London. The Queen orders Disraeli to have the case against the boy handled with great caution and with as little public comment as possible as there is speculation that Wheeler might be part of an Irish plot. A police officer rounds up some of the cronies and fellow scavengers Wheeler thinks could testify to his character, but they claim not to recognize him. Meanwhile, Emily and Charles have planned another elopement rendezvous, but this time he is summoned to see Disraeli and Emily is left waiting once again. Later, after the Queen indicates to Emily that her position on the marriage might be changing, Emily and Charles finally keep a rendezvous. In the House of Commons, Devoy, an Irish Member, denounces the newspaper characterizations of Irish involvement in the Wheeler case. Disraeli agrees that Wheeler acted alone and uses the boy's life story in his campaign for major social reforms, which gain overwhelming support from the Members. Later, Disraeli tells Wheeler that the government has arranged for his care and schooling. Displeased by a rebuke in Disraeli's speech, the Queen summons him to Windsor. The prime minister tells her that although she may not approve of his method, his campaign has been successful. He then offers to resign. Brown defuses the situation by interjecting that Victoria's late husband would have approved of Disraeli's actions. Wheeler has sneaked into the castle again, and Brown presents him to the Queen, who tells him that he is a very naughty boy. He touches her heart, however, when he shows her the cameo he has saved and says that he only wanted to see her. The Queen thanks him and instructs Disraeli to watch over him. Later, Queen Victoria ends her seclusion and appears at the hospital's celebration where she is, once more, greeted with affection by her subjects.
Grace Denbeigh Russell
W. Percy Day
Robert E. Dearing
C. P. Norman
George More O'ferrall
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Costume Design
Twentieth Century-Fox first optioned the film rights to the book for $5,000 in September 1949, and the following month purchased total rights for $75,000 with an additional $2,500 in consideration of sales of the book for 1949-1950. Bonnet's novel was adapted for the screen by producer Nunnally Johnson with uncredited alterations by Fox chief Darryl Zanuck, who, like Johnson, had begun his career in films as a screenwriter. Zanuck's changes to the script were due to his fear that heavy British accents would not be acceptable to American audiences. In a memo to Johnson and director Jean Negulesco, written in January of 1950, Zanuck complained, "Nothing has done more to kill English pictures in America than pronounced British accents. A British picture has got to be simply sensational to get by in this country and overcome the absolute hatred of American audiences for British accents. [...] If we load this picture with pronounced accents we are going to be in serious trouble."
This may explain why the American actress Irene Dunne was cast as Queen Victoria, which caused some criticism when it was announced in the United Kingdom in March 1950. Dunne managed to avoid most of the controversy due to her long vacation in Europe with her husband and fifteen-year-old daughter. When she arrived in England in May, Dunne held a press conference in which she acknowledged the criticism, but said that she had been working hard to cultivate a British accent and had done extensive reading about Victoria in order to portray her properly, adding, "Queen Victoria would turn over in her grave if I portrayed her with an American accent." The press was mollified, and Dunne went to work. The Mudlark was shot at Shepperton Studios in England because Fox, like many American film studios, still had money tied up in the United Kingdom from before the war. Unable to move the money back to the United States, Fox chose to spend it on production of The Mudlark and other films.
In order to be believable as the aged Queen Victoria, Dunne, then only forty-nine, was forced to undergo an hour-and-a-half daily sessions in the makeup chair with David Aylott, who worked in conjunction with famed makeup artist Gordon Bau. Dunne would later tell journalists, "They covered my face with strips of plastic latex so I doubt whether my own daughter would recognize me." Although Irene Dunne had been a star in films since the 1930s, she would share equal billing with her co-star Alec Guinness in prints that were shown in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Guinness had made his name in the theater, both in London and the United States before World War II in performances like Hamlet. After the war, Guinness showcased his astonishing ability to play a variety of characters in films like David Lean's Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), and most notably in Robert Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). Guinness was so popular by 1950 that his contract could demand this billing, even though The Mudlark was only his sixth film. In prints struck for the American market, however, Dunne's name was the only one above the title and Guinness' name appeared after. Andrew Ray had just celebrated his tenth birthday when he began filming the role of Wheeler. He won the part when his older brother Robin, who had been originally cast by former silent film star Ben Lyons, had grown too tall for the part.
The initial criticism of the choice of Irene Dunne to play Victoria did not prevent the film from screening at the Royal Film Performance on October 30, 1950, for King George VI and the Royal Family to raise money for the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund. Dunne would take a page from the Royal Family's book when the film premiered in Los Angeles at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on January 30, 1951, requesting that Twentieth Century-Fox use it as a benefit for the St. John's Hospital Guild of Santa Monica, of which she was chairwoman.
In 1952 The Mudlark received an Academy Award for Costume Design (Black and White) for Edward Stevenson and Margaret Furse, who lost to Edith Head for A Place in the Sun (1951).
By Lorraine LoBianco
Such proposals as slum clearance, public housing, educational facilities for the poor, are all wise and worthy measures and consequently will be opposed vigorously. The British are a proud and independent people, ma'am, and will not yield to improvement without a stout struggle.- Disraeli
According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the studio optioned motion picture publicist Theodore Bonnet's novel in September 1949 for $5,000, then purchased it the following month for a total of $75,000 plus $2,500 based on sales of the book during its first year of publication.
The Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, also located at UCLA, reveals that Nunnally Johnson was the only writer who worked on the screenplay, apart from studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. Zanuck had fears about Johnson's and director Jean Negulesco's intent to use a variety of British dialects in the film. In a January 1950 memo to them, he wrote, "Nothing has done more to kill English pictures in America than pronounced British accents. A British picture has got to be simply sensational to get by in this country and overcome the absolute hatred of American audiences for British accents....A Scottish accent is worst of all. If we load this picture with pronounced accents we are going to be in serious trouble."
The print viewed was a British release print, identical to the American release version in terms of plot, but containing more production and cast credits. As Alec Guinness' contract called for him to have co-star billing, equal to Irene Dunne's, on prints shown in the U.K., Northern Ireland and Ireland, his name immediately follows Dunne's before the main title on the print viewed. On prints released in America, however, he received first billing after the main title. Actor Anthony Steel was loaned to Twentieth Century-Fox by J. Arthur Rank Productions, Ltd. A June 26, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that American makeup expert Ben Nye advised Dave Aylott on special techniques for transforming Dunne into Queen Victoria. A later story in Life magazine stated that the daily latex applications took ninety minutes to apply.
Before the film's release, Zanuck removed a sequence depicting Victoria with her grandchildren, played by Maurice Warren, Michael Brooke and Jane Short, as he felt it interrupted the dramatic flow of the story. Despite initial criticism in the British press about an American playing Queen Victoria, the film was selected for showing at the annual Royal Film Performance on October 30, 1950, in the presence of King George VI and the Royal Family to benefit the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund. The Los Angeles premiere, on January 30, 1951, was a benefit for Santa Monica's St. John's Hospital Guild, of which Dunne was chairman. The film received an Academy Award nomination in the Costume Design (Black-and-White) category. A radio adaptation of the screenplay was broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on August 27, 1951 and starred Dunne and Sir Cedric Hardwicke.
Other films about Queen Victoria include the 1937 Imperator Film production Victoria the Great, which was directed by Herbert Wilcox and starred Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook. Neagle and Walbrook also starred in Queen of Destiny, another Imperator film, released in Great Britain in 1938 as Sixty Glorious Years (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.5508 and F3.5443). Queen Victoria and John Brown were also depicted in the 1997 British production Mrs. Brown, directed by John Madden II and featuring Dame Judi Dench and Billy Connolly.