Jun 3, 2020

On Blu-ray: Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Taylor, and Peter Ustinov in Beau Brummell (1954)

Of all the screen adaptations of Beau Brummell, the 1954 MGM production is the most lavish. With grand settings, gorgeous costumes, and attractive stars, it is drawn directly from the studio’s basic blueprint for glossy historical dramas. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, the film looks and sounds sharp and clean.

Stewart Granger stars in the title role of the outspoken influencer of policy and fashion who insulted and then befriended the Prince of Wales. A breathtakingly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor costars as his illicit love interest and Peter Ustinov plays the reluctant heir to the throne. Also a stand-out in the cast is Robert Morley, who is suitably dazed as the mentally ill King George III. Apparently he was so good in his brief role that Queen Elizabeth II herself approved of his performance as her ancestor when she viewed the film at a Royal Command Film Performance.

As was the MGM way, a scattering of facts about Brummell’s life are filled in with romance, pageantry and a softening of his unhappy fate. Granger plays his role with bracing arrogance and is attractive, if not as charming as the part required. While Taylor knows precisely how to play her prettily passive character, she gives the impression of having untapped passion boiling beneath the fa├žade she presents. The two look great together, but never really connect.

It is Ustinov who brings life to Beau Brummell. He is so charismatic and sympathetic that the film drags noticeably when he isn’t onscreen. With his oddball charm, the actor elevates what could have been an enjoyable, if not enthralling costume drama into something more compelling.

While the production could have greatly benefited from a romantic pairing with better chemistry or a Brummell with the sort of devilish, dashing persona that John Barrymore had in the 1924 silent version of the film, Ustinov lends the proceedings much-needed wit and charm.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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