Monday, April 7, 2014

Walt Disney's The Sword and the Rose

Mary Tudor, the younger sister of England's King Henry VIII, gets the Disney treatment in 1953's The Sword and the Rose. Glynis Johns stars as the spunky Princess Mary, who falls in love with Charles Brandon (Richard Todd), the dashing captain of the palace guards. When her romance with Brandon threatens the King's plan to marry her off to King Louis XII of France, Mary runs away to join Brandon on a voyage to America. Unfortunately, the young lovers are captured and a displeased Henry VIII accuses Brandon of high treason and imprisons him in the Tower of London. As Brandon awaits his execution, Mary must decide how to save the man she loves.

Richard Todd as Charles Brandon.
The Sword and the Rose was one of four Disney costume adventures produced in Great Britain in the 1950s. The others were Disney's first all live-action film Treasure Island (1950), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953). The latter two films also starred The Sword and the Rose's Richard Todd and James Robertson Justice, while Glynis Johns reunited with her co-stars for Rob Roy. Walt Disney's decision to shoot the films in Great Britain was a financial one. British treasury restrictions prevented him from moving profits from his cartoons to the U.S. He used those funds to establish a British studio that produced live action films through the 1960s.

Johns "disguised" as a boy.
The Sword and the Rose's strongest virtue is its first-rate British cast. Johns is delightful as the mischievous Princess Mary, who knows just how to manipulate her royal brother to get what she wants. She also looks fetching when dressed as Brandon's page. Indeed, her performance and appearance in The Sword and the Rose surely led to her casting as another spunky heroine opposite Danny Kaye in 1955's comedy classic The Court Jester. As for Todd and Justice, they are well-suited to the kind of roles that made them famous: Todd as the swashbuckling hero and Justice as a blustery, but good-hearted, father figure. Michael Gough is also on hand as the de facto villain, a nobleman who wants to be more than friends with the lovely princess.

Robertson as King Henry VIII.
However, despite its acting pedigree, The Sword and the Rose lacks the flair of the decade's best swashbucklers. Until the climax, there's much more rose (an emphasis on Mary and Brandon's romance) than sword (any kind of derring do). Granted, the plot is partially constrained by historical events--though even there, The Sword and the Rose takes liberties. In real life, Brandon was a duke and not the captain of the palace guards; he had already been married two previous times and had two daughters. Plus, Michael Gough's Duke of Buckingham had no interest in Mary. 

The screenplay was based on Charles Major's 1898 novel When Knighthood Was in Flower and filmed previously in 1922 with Marion Davies as Mary Tudor. The Sword and the Rose was retitled When Knighthood Was in Flower when it was broadcast in 1956 in two parts on the Disneyland TV series (later known as Walt Disney Presents and other titles).


  1. I haven't seen this since I was a kid sitting in front of the TV with stars in my eyes. Talk about a stroll down Memory Lane!

  2. This was indeed a spunky performance by Glynis Johns. James Robertson Justice was a very different Henry VIII than history reveals but fits in well with Disney.