Cast & Crew
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
As Samuel Pepys reads from his diary, a haggard Nell Gwyn is evicted from her poverty-stricken hovel. The bailiff notices a fine clock among her belongings, and notes that she could have sold it for ten times what she owes her landlord. As the bailiff removes her, her story unfolds: In 1668, England is under the rule of King Charles II. Charles argues with his brother James, the Duke of York, over control of the country. While James wants a strong monarchy, Charles insists on ruling within the confines of the law. Against the wishes of Pepys and his brother, Charles insists on going to a Drury Lane theater that night to see "The Vestal Virgins," starring the young Nell Gwyn. As the actors argue among themselves backstage, they learn that the king will attend this night's performance. Meanwhile, the Duchess of Portsmouth, the king's mistress, prepares for a late-night meeting with the king, and tells her servants to inform the French ambassador of her plans. After the theatrical performance, the king visits Nell backstage and invites her to supper. She agrees, standing up the sailors she had previously agreed to see that evening. When the duchess arrives for her appointment with the king, she is told by his servant Chiffinch that the King will be very late. Later, Nell meets the king again at a clockmaker's shop, and Charles asks her advise in selecting one of two clocks. As the two leave the shop, they are met by the waiting duchess, who immediately selects the other clock, calling Nell's choice "a vulgar thing." Charles arranges for a featured role for Nell in an upcoming performance. He then tells Nell that while the duchess will attend the opening night's performance with him, his thoughts will be with her. At the performance that night, Nell humiliates the duchess, and Charles later chastises her. Nell then learns from her friend Meg that the duchess has been slandering her. At a royal dinner, the king invites both Nell and the duchess, and Nell performs a dance that greatly amuses the king. Charles insists that Nell try to patch things up between herself and the duchess, who, in the meantime, has been plotting with the French ambassador. The ambassador tells the duchess that the French king fears that she may be losing Charles to Nell. At a dressmaker's shop, Nell attempts to make amends with the duchess, but the two trade insults instead. At that night's performance, Nell caricatures the duchess' new hat and gown, making the royal lady a laughingstock. After the play, the duchess tells the king that Nell has been conspiring with the French ambassador. The king calls on Nell, who is having drinks with some handicapped ex-service men. At first, Charles believes that Nell is in league with the French, but he soon learns the truth about the duchess. Nell chastises him for neglecting his starving people in favor of consorting with a French spy. The duchess then arrives at the tavern to see Nell herself, and Charles quickly leaves, offering Nell his best wishes. As the duchess tries to convince Nell to leave the King's life, Nell instead informs the duchess that her days in the Royal Court of England are over. Eighteen years later, Charles and Nell are still together, but on 6 Nov 1685, when Nell learns that the king is dying, she is denied entrance to the palace, and must stand outside the gate as his death is announced. When the careworn Nell is found dead by the same bailiff who evicted her, he remarks, "Ah, well, it just show yer, don't. She was only thirty- six, but you'd think she was fifty."
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
New York Times remarked concerning the film's credit for dialogue, "It is the charming conceit of its producers to credit the authorship of Nell Gwyn to the King, to Samuel Pepys and to pretty Nell herself." This film suffered from severe censorship problems in the United States. According to information found in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the film was withheld from American distribution for nearly one year as the PCA attempted to have the film adjusted to Production Code standards. The PCA objected to the film for its "glorification of a prostitute," stating that while Nell Gwyn was a historical figure, the film still must uphold the moral context of the Production Code, and that the film's "theme's violation of the Code" was in showing a mistress "living the life of luxury." The film was rejected by the PCA in August 1934, after which various correspondences between the PCA and the producers attempted to adjust the film to American requirements. The PCA suggested that the title be changed to Charles the Second to deflect the emphasis on Nell Gwyn, but this was rejected by the producers. The producers suggested adding a scene in which Nell Gwyn founded a hospital for veterans, a historical fact, but the PCA rejected this, again on the grounds that it would be more glorification of a prostitute. After cutting three hundred feet from the film, the producers again submitted it to the PCA. On 4 January 1935, it was once again rejected on grounds of "glorifying adultery and adulteresses." Captain Richard Norton of British and Dominions telegrammed the PCA in February 1935 with the suggestion of adding a prologue to the film, read by one of a number of noted British men of letters. On 2 March 1935, the suggestion was made to add a new prologue and epilogue, showing an old, haggard Nell Gwyn dying in poverty. The film was finally approved by the PCA in April 1935, after the insertion of a prologue and an epilogue, and the deletion of ten minutes of footage from the original British version, which included any references to Nell being a prostitute, or any direct references to Charles sharing his bed with Nell. Modern sources included Doris Zinkeisen Costumes, Merrill White Film Editor and Tom Heslewood Historial consultant in the production; and Muriel George (Meg), Moore Marriott (Robin), Craighall Sherry (Ben) and Dorothy Robinson (Mrs. Knipp) in the cast. Modern sources also indicate that the film was reissued in Great Britain in 1941 and 1948. Films based on the life of Nell Gwyn include the 1911 British production Nell Gwynn, the Orange Girl, directed by Theo Bouwneester; a 1914 production starring Nellie Stuart (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F1.3154) and the 1926 British production Nell Gwynne, also directed by Herbert Wilcox, starring Dorothy Gish and Randle Ayrton. Another film, based in part on the life of Nell Gwyn, is Twentieth Century-Fox's 1947 production Forever Amber, starring Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde, and directed by Otto Preminger. Contemporary sources indicate that in 1952 David O. Selznick considered filming another version, but it was not made.