Young Bess (1953)

Young Bess (1953)

An historical account (however fictionalized) about Queen Elizabeth I from childhood to assuming the throne upon “Bloody Mary’s death. Jean Simmons plays the title role the daughter of Henry VIII (Charles Laughton) and Ann Boleyn (Elaine Stewart) shown briefly before meeting her fate. An uncredited baby then child actress (Noreen Corcoran) plays Bess during the years when the King was systematically eliminating his wives and official recognition of the young Princess was in flux. During this period she was kept at Hatfield raised by Mrs. Ashley (Kay Walsh) and Mr. Parry (Cecil Kellaway who appears briefly). Stewart Granger plays Thomas Seymour the King’s Admiral and friend to his last wife Catherine Parr (Deborah Kerr). Guy Rolfe plays Ned Seymour Thomas’s brother who against King Henry’s wishes assumes control of the crown after his death while the King’s preteen son Edward (Rex Thompson) ages. Kathleen Byron plays Ned’s wife Ann. Also cast are Leo G. Carroll as Bess’s tutor and Alan Napier & Norma Varden as those assigned by Ann to replace Mrs. Ashley for a period after Parr’s death. Directed by George Sidney Margaret Irwin’s novel was adapted by Jan Lustig and Arthur Wimperis (Mrs. Miniver (1942)); the film’s Color Art Direction & Costume Design were Oscar nominated.

Simmons plays Bess as a strong willed young lady who as a teenage girl (and before her father’s death) became infatuated with Admiral Seymour for his kindness to her in her ever changing situation. She also maintained an influence over young Prince Edward able to manipulate him (after the King’s death) into declaring that the Admiral should get ships he needs to compete with Spain. This is after realizing Thomas’s love for Catherine (and sacrificing her own undeclared love for that which was best for him) she moves Edward to declare that Catherine should be married to Thomas. Thomas has endeared himself to the young Prince over the years by hiding gold coins for him when Ned and the council deny him funds adequate “to bribe his own servants”. Later when Bess has grown and become educated by Mums (Carroll) she demonstrates her knowledge of ships to Thomas and he begins to see her in a new more romantic light. However he does not leave Catherine. But before Catherine’s death his “positive” actions towards Bess cause Bess to spoil her arranged marriage to a Danish prince using Edward’s whipping boy Barnaby (Robert Arthur).

After Catherine’s death Ned and the council seek to compel Mrs. Ashley and Bess’s other servants to testify against Thomas (for his love of Bess presumably plotting to gain power hence treason) in order to keep him as the favorite of the people for his sea victories from assuming the power. Bess is taken into custody and though she refuses to testify against him is kept from influencing young Edward into saving his life.

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