Disraeli (1929)

 

 

 

Director:      Alfred E. Green

Starring:     George Arliss (Benjamin Disraeli),  Joan Bennett (Lady Clarissa Pevensey),  Florence Arliss (Lady Mary Beaconsfield),  Anthony Bushell (Lord Charles Deeford),  David Torrence (Lord Michael Probert),  Ivan F. Simpson (Sir Hugh Myers),  Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Agatha Travers),  Gwendolyn Logan (Duchess of Glastonbury),  Charles E. Evans (Mr. Potter, Disraeli's Gardener),  Cosmo Kyrle Bellew (Mr. Terle, Disraeli's Downing Street Butler),  Jack Deery (Bascot, Disraeli's Butler),  Michael Visaroff (Count Borsinov),  Norman Cannon (Mr. Foljambe, Disraeli's Secretary),  Henry Carvill (Duke of Glastonbury),  Shayle Gardner (Dr. Williams).

Oscar: Best Actor

George Arliss plays the role of  Benjamin Disraeli, British statesman and novelist who was twice prime minister (1868, 1874-80) and who provided the Conservative Party with a twofold policy of Tory democracy and imperialism.

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"1874.  Hyde Park, London where free speech and criticism of the Government were permissible".  A speaker in Hyde Park criticizes Disraeli, "a Jew" whose father was a "blooming foreigner".  He shouts:  "Down with Disraeli!  Gladstone is the man for us!" 

"The Liberal Club, rendezvous of England's liberal political party."  The liberals also denounce Disraeli saying he is trying to get England into war with Russia and that he is an unscrupulous politician who is only out for his own self-aggrandizement.  He is thought to be a man only interested in spreading the power of the British Empire through his imperialistic policies. 

The House of Commons --  Gladstone versus Disraeli.  Gladstone speaks out against the expansionist policies of Disraeli.  Disraeli gets up and says that Britain should play a major role in the world and a British Empire is the way to accomplish that.  In the newspapers the news is that Prime Minister Disraeli's foreign policy has been voted down. 

At home Disraeli speaks with his wife Mary who is planning a garden party.  Disraeli gives her advice on who to invite.  He wants the Russian envoy to be at the party and Mrs. Agatha Travers. 

"The Imperial Russian Embassy in London."  Mrs. Travers goes into see Count Borsinov.  Borsinov tells her that Russia wants to spoil Disraeli's policies so that Russia will get an agreement with Egypt and can control the Suez Canal.  One of Disraeli's employees, Mr. Foljambe, Disraeli's Secretary, comes into Borsinov's office to report on the latest goings on with Disraeli. 

At the garden party,  Mary (Lady Beaconsfield) and Disraeli (the Earl of Beaconsfield), greet their guests.  They welcome the pretty Lady Clarissa Pevensey to the party.  After Clarissa they welcome Lord Charles Deeford.  Deeford doesn't like Disraeli, but he hopes that Clarissa just might be able to make the man more human.  Mrs. Travers is already at the party and she speaks with the head of the Bank of England, Sir Michael Probert, who says the bank will never support Disraeli's impractical foreign policies.  Of course, that is music to Mrs. Travers's ears. 

Clarissa and Charles go for a walk in the garden.  Clarissa asks him why doesn't he like Mr. Disraeli?  Charles says that he doesn't really want to talk politics with her.  He wants to talk about marriage, but he does so in too formal of a way that Clarissa does not care for.  She rejects his marriage proposal and this really shocks Charles.  Disraeli starts to approach the couple just as Clarissa is verbally taking the arrogant Charles down a few pegs.  They both see Disraeli waiting in the wings.  Charles tells her haughtily:  "I see I have made a mistake."  He walks out. 

Disraeli has Clarissa sit on a bench with him and he asks her why she refuses Charles's proposal?  She responds that she likes Charles, but he lectured her.  She says if he would have just simply asked her, she might have simply said yes.  Disraeli tells her:  "I have a very high opinion of him."  This shocks Clarissa.  Disraeli advises her to go after Charles and tell him she is sorry.  Clarissa absolutely refuses to apologize.  She leaves. 

Disraeli receives a telegram.  He reads it and then immediately goes over to ask the advise of the head of the Bank of England.  Mrs. Travers follows them to see if she can hear anything of their conversation.  In the library Disraeli says that he wants to purchase the Suez Canal from the Egyptians.  Sir Michael rejects the idea immediately, but Disraeli tells him that they must move on this in three weeks or else Russia could move in on the canal.  Mrs. Travers opens the library door a little so she can eavesdrop on the conversation. Disraeli notices her and she quickly walks away.  He watches her as she leaves. 

Disraeli goes back to speak with Sir Michael. From the way Sir Michael speaks to Disraeli (who is Jewish), the fellow seems to have a bit of anti-Semitism in him.  Disraeli says that he will get the money he needs by going to Moses. 

Mary comes in and wants Dizzy to come out to the party or guests will think them rude.  Dizzy tells her he must get hold of the banker Hugh Meyers.  He sends a telegram off to him.   Then he tells his wife he is going to play matchmaker between Charles and Clarissa. 

Charles comes up to Disraeli and tells him the he attributes Clarissa's rejection of his marriage proposal to the prime minister himself.  Dizzy doesn't get mad, but rather tells Charles that he's very interested in him.  He says England needs men like him.  Charles is a bit thrown-off by this approach and Dizzy tells Charles that he is glad he has asked for his help for he needs to make some changes.  Dizzy starts his critique by asking Charles if he speaks so formally like this to Clarissa?  Charles says he doesn't talk about politics with women.  Dizzy responds:  "I do."   He has told Clarissa that the countries in Europe are now steeping in nationalism and one day there will be a big explosion, even though he won't be around to see it.  All the nations are competing to expand their influence.  If Britain does not have good allies and is not vigilant, Russia may grab India and this will be a big loss for Britain.  He has talked about all this, so it is no wonder that Clarissa is not excited by Charles's lackadaisical approach.  She wants to make a difference, so it's no wonder she wants someone she can share ideas with. 

Charles asks Disraeli if he will teach him how to be a better politician.  Yes, he will.  And one of the things Charles should start doing is stop thinking small and think of the larger picture.  For instance, think of a ditch, he says.  He senses the presence of Mrs. Travers and stops Charles from saying the words Suez Canal.  He gets up to great Mrs. Travers and to throws her off his scent by talking about horticulture.  Clarissa and Mary come up and Dizzy tells them that Charles has accepted a secretary position under him.  Charles is a bit shocked, but decides it's a good idea. 

Number 10 Downing Street.  Dizzy is ready to start the day's work.  Mr. Foljambe is there.  Dizzy gives him some communications to mail, but he notices that Foljambe grabs other letters on the desk.  Foljambe starts to leave, but Dizzy stops him.  He takes back the two dispatches from Russia.  Foljame begs his pardon and Dizzy says it's a natural mistake. 

Mr. Hugh Meyers comes in.  He tells Dizzy that the money will arrive in three weeks.  Dizzy is happy about this.  Deeford comes over and Dizzy introduces him to Meyers.  Charles guesses that the money is for the Suez Canal (and not for fortifications as Dizzy said).  Dizzy tells Charles that he is right, it is the Suez Canal, but he is not to breath a word of this to anyone.  Dizzy and Hugh go into another office.  Foljambe comes over to Charles and tells him that the money is not going for fortifications but for the Canal.  Charles is startled and he jumps up out of his chair. 

Clarissa and Mrs. Travers come into see Charles.  As Charles is busy talking with Clarissa, Foljambe grabs some more letters off Dizzy's desk.  Charles asks Mrs. Travers if it's all right that he and Clarissa go out for awhile.  Of course, she agrees. Mrs. Travers sends a message out via Foljambe.  Dizzy hears the last part of the message "Ostend", Belgium.  Charles and Clarissa come in and Charles tells him that Foljambe already knows about the Suez Canal.  That doesn't surprise Dizzy.  He tells the couple that Foljambe is actually Mr. Travers, the husband of Mrs. Travers.  Dizzy goes on to say that he was planting false information for Mr. Travers all along.  But now that Foljambe knows about the Canal, they will have to take action.  Dizzy decides to send Charles to Egypt to see Khedive Isma'il Pasha (ruler from 1867 to 1879) and get him to sell Britain his controlling shares in the Canal.  Charles says he will do it.  Dizzy turns to tell Clarissa:  "There's your man of action."  He then warns Charles that the mission is a dangerous one.  The note of danger causes Clarissa to worry, so Dizzy asks her if she will let Charles go on the mission?  Clarissa gives her permission, which pleases Dizzy very much. 

Dizzy goes into the back room to get some papers for Charles.  Charles and Clarissa have just enough time for Clarissa to tell Charles that she loves him.  Dizzy returns and gives the papers to Charles.  He then pushes the man out the door saying a sudden departure is better than a long one.  Clarissa starts to cry after Charles departs.  She asks Dizzy what is she to do?   He takes her out to see the peacocks on the estate.  Later he feeds his birds.  The gardener is upset about Dizzy working so hard because he has seen Dr. Williams coming in and out of the house.  Dizzy tells him that Dr. Williams has been doing that all right, but he has been coming for his wife, not for him. 

Clarissa comes in to say hello to Dizzy.  He tells her that they are having Mrs. Travers over for the day, because he wants her to be in a place where he can keep an eye on her.  Mary tells Clarissa never to mention the subject of her health before Dizzy, because he has enough trouble to worry about already.  Clarissa agrees not to discuss it.  Dizzy receives a telegram from Cairo. It's from Charles.  The message says:  the celery is ripe to cut.  Both women are disappointed about the message, but Clarissa asks Dizzy what does it mean?  It means that the mission has been a success and that makes all three of them feel very happy.  Dizzy is especially happy because now he can make Queen Victoria the Empress of India. 

Dizzy is about ready to send a telegram to Meyers, but Meyers arrives in a coach.  Meyers has urgent news and has to be alone with Dizzy.  The two women leave the room.  He has very bad news for Disraeli.  Meyers is bankrupt.  This really upsets Disraeli who starts to ask how the hell did that happen, when Meyers tells him that it wasn't their fault.  The ship with the money coming from Argentina has been deliberately scuttled.  And terrible, false rumors have been spread about his firm.  Meyers says:  "Some enormous power has been working in the dark."  Dizzy asks who is it that's doing this?  Meyers doesn't know but they have been working through the queen's solicitor Samuel Lewis.  

Dizzy tells Meyers not to tell anyone about this.  He wants him to go back to his office and pretend that everything is normal.  Dizzy says something will happen.  It's just that he just doesn't know what it will be.  Meyers leaves.  Dizzy calls his wife in and tells her what happened.  Mary wants to know what it will do to him?   Complete and utter disgrace.  He says he will face the scandal alone.  Mary says he won't face it alone.  She will be with him.  Dizzy starts to cry and thanks God for having his Mary. 

Mrs. Travers is now announced.  Dizzy wants her to come in now because he wants to keep an eye on her.  And they must keep her here.  Dizzy is going to play like he is very ill.  He gets in his robe and lays on the couch with medicine on the little table before him.  Mrs. Travers comes in and says she heard that Disraeli was sick and had to come over and see him.  Dizzy is pretending to be asleep, but now he pretends to awaken and thanks Mrs. Travers for being so kind as to come and see him. 

While Dizzy is over by the huge mirror on the wall over the fireplace, he sees Mrs. Travers retrieve a message from underneath Dizzy's table.  Mrs. Travers now asks if she can see the peacocks.  As she goes over to the window, Dizzy grabs Clarissa and tells her that Mrs. Travers got hold of the translation of the telegram message from Charles.  He tells her not to let her read the message.  Clarissa grabs the left arm of Mrs Travers and takes her outside to see the peacocks close up. 

Dizzy tells Mary to take the coach of Mrs. Travers to fetch Lord Michael Probert for him.  And she is to take Clarissa with her because he wants "that woman" (Mrs. Travers) alone with him.  Mrs. Travers and Clarissa come back.  The two women leave and Mrs. Travers stays because Dizzy insists she stays.  He says he needs her to nurse him back to health.  He takes her hand and says how pretty it is.  Mrs. Travers is getting a bit nervous now.  He says that she is quick to grab things with her hands, like messages.  He grabs the message from under her sleeve and pulls it out.  Dizzy confronts her with it, but she only says:  "So what of it!"

Dizzy says he remembers her from back in the 1860s in Geneva, Switzerland.  There was a Russian agent named Lumley with his pretty comrade.  These two agents were known to spy on the Russian refugees and try to send them back to Russia and on to Siberia and death.  He says the two agents were pushed out of Switzerland and they came to England.  He took in Lumley as his secretary under the name of Foljambe and Mrs. Travers gives messages to Foljambe. 

Mrs. Travers says that Dizzy is in real trouble because she knows that Meyers is bankrupt.  How did she know that for Meyers told Dizzy that he has only told Disraeli about the bankruptcy?   Lord Probert comes in.  He demands to know from Dizzy why, if he is not ill, did he ask him to come over to his estate?  Dizzy tells Probert and Mrs. Travers to sit down for he has a tale to tell them. He tells Probert that Charles has been successful in his talks with the Egyptian king and has purchased the Canal for Britain with the money of Meyers.  But Russia has been busy at work too, helped by their agent Mrs. Travers.  Russia has been undermining Meyers and now Meyers has gone bankrupt.  Meyers tells Dizzy that he told him this would happen to him.

But Dizzy says he isn't worried for here and now Probert will sign a document giving Meyers unlimited credit.  Probert thinks Dizzy must be crazy if he thinks he is going to sign any such document to get an "alien, a Jew" out of trouble.  Dizzy strikes backs with:  "The alien, the Jew, happens to be the better citizen."  He tells Probert to think of what will happen to the man who refuses to save Britain?  to the man who exposes Britain to the ridicule of the world?  to the man who lost the Suez Canal and India?  "And what becomes of the bank?"  Dizzy says he will smash the bank.  He is the prime minister and has the power to ruin the Bank of England.  And if Probert won't sign the document, then by God he will smash the bank!

Probert signs the document.  The banker says he signed the document only to save the bank.  Probert leaves the house, followed by Mrs. Travers.  She and Dizzy bow their heads to each other.

Clarissa and Mary come over to congratulate Dizzy.  Clarissa says that it's a good thing he has that kind of power to do this.  Dizzy explains that he does not have the power, but Probert doesn't know it.  All three have a good laugh at this. 

The headline in the newspapers is:  "Disraeli Hero of the Hour.  House of Commons Gives Prime Minister Vote of Confidence and Ratifies Purchase of Suez Canal."

Mary is very ill and Dizzy does not want to leave her, but the doctor says Disraeli must go to the ceremony to be given in his honor.  Even Queen Victoria is going to be there and this is something she has never done before for a prime minister.  Disraeli says he promised his wife that he and she would meet Queen Victoria hand in hand.  The doctor says that Disraeli has always been a fighter and he cannot break faith with Queen Victoria.  Dizzy finally tells the doctor that he is right and he leaves for the ceremonial ball. 

Clarissa is at the ball with her father.  Dad says that Queen Victoria loves her new title as Empress of India.  Probert talks to Meyers and proclaims himself a great patriot for not letting Meyers's firm go under.  Meyers knows the truth, but just humors Probert's ego.  Mr. Disraeli is coming in and everyone grows quiet and makes way for the great man.  Dizzy comes in with his head held low.  He goes over to talk to Clarissa.  Now he makes an announcement that Her Majesty is on her way over to the ball.  Before she arrives, he wants to thank everyone that helped him make this whole enterprise a successful one.  Dizzy brings out Hugh Meyers and then Sir Robert Probert.  He tells everyone that Queen Victoria has bestowed a peerage on both of the men.  Now he calls for Charles to come out.  The queen will bestow the Ribbon of the Bath on Charles with her own hands.  After hearing this, Charles goes over to say hello to Clarissa.

Dizzy is handed a telegram. Clarissa says it may be a telegram about the death of Mary.  As Dizzy fumbles with opening the telegram, Mary comes up behind him to surprise him.  She arrived before the telegram was delivered to Dizzy.  Her husband is so relieved to see her.  The doors open and Dizzy and Mary go in to see Queen Victoria.   

 

 Interesting film, but it seemed more like a Sherlock Holmes mystery adventure than an historical film.  You don't really learn that much about Disraeli and his policies  There is some historical facts, but it's mostly fiction.  George Arliss as Benjamin Disraeli gave a really good performance.  He looked like kind of an ugly old man, but he gave the impression that Disraeli had a heart of gold.      

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

 

1804  --  born in  London, England of Italian-Jewish descent.

1813  --  his father quarrels with the synagogue of Bevis Marks.

1817  --  his father decides to have his children baptized as Christians. This was fortunate indeed, for until 1858 Jews by religion were excluded from Parliament.

1821  --  at age 17 he is articled to a firm of solicitors.

1825 --  loses all of his reckless investments in South American mining.  Financially, he does not recover until well past middle age.

1827 --  publishes anonymously his novel Vivian Grey which lampoons the men with whom he had a business gone wrong. He had persuaded the publisher John Murray, his father's friend, to launch a daily newspaper, the Representative, which soon failed. Unable to pay his promised share of the capital, he had quarreled with Murray and others. Disraeli receives wide criticism when his authorship is discovered.

1827-31  -- nervous breakdown; does little.

1828-1830  --  Tory Duke of Wellington prime minister.

1830-1834  --  reign of Whig Prime Minister Earl Grey.

1830  --  begins 16 months of travel in the Mediterranean countries and the Middle East. The travels greatly influence his attitudes to India, Egypt and Turkey in the 1870s.

1831  -- his novel, The Young Duke a big hit among the fashionable and celebrity people of his day.  Decides to enter politics.  

1832  --  novel Contarini Fleming.  Fails three times seeking a seat in Buckinghamshire, near Wycombe, where his family had settled.

1834  --  Whig Prime Minister Viscount Melbourne.

1834-1835  -- Sir Robert Peel, conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. 

1835-1841  --  Whig Prime Minister, Viscount Melbourne

1835  --  Disraeli has an open liaison with Henrietta, wife of Sir Francis Sykes.

1837  -- Henrietta is the prototype of the heroine in his novel Henrietta Temple.

1837  --  Disraeli wins a seat for Maidstone in Kent as the Conservative candidate. His first attempt at a speech in the House of Commons is booed down, partly because of his affected mannerisms and foppish dress.   

1839  --  establishes a social position by marrying Mrs. Wyndham Lewis, a wealthy widow.

1841-1846  --  reign of Conservative leader, Sir Robert Peel, as prime minister.  Disraeli is mortified when he does not receive an office in the Cabinet. He becomes increasingly critical of Peel.

1844  --  his novel Coningsby; or The New Generation; the hero is modeled after George Smyth, leader of a group of young Tories, nicknamed Young England.  The new group rejects the pragmatic, humdrum, middle-class Conservatism of Peel for their own romantic, aristocratic, nostalgic, and escapist views.

1845  --  Disraeli finds his chance for political glory when, during the Irish famine, Peel repeals the protective duties on foreign imported grain known as the Corn Laws. As lieutenant to Lord George Bentinck, the nominal leader of the rebels, Disraeli consolidates the opposition to Peel.

1846   --  not able to stop the repeal of the Corn Laws , the rebels put Peel in the minority on another issue and force him to resign in 1846.  The death of Bentinck makes Disraeli the leader of the opposition in the Commons.

1846-1852  -- reign of Whig Prime Minister Lord John Russell

1847  --  is elected to Parliament as member for Buckinghamshire.

1848  --  purchases Hughenden Manor, near High Wycombe. His finances still shaky.

1852  --  Whig government falls. Earl of Derby, leader of the Conservative Party, forms a short-lived minority government; Disraeli chancellor of the Exchequer and his budget brings down the government.

1852-1855  --    reign of Peelite Conservative Prime Minister Earl of Aberdeen

1855-1858  --  reign of Liberal Prime Minister Viscount Palmerson

1858-1859  -- Conservative Earl of Derby again forms a minority government with Disraeli as chancellor of the Exchequer.

1859-1865  --  Liberal Viscount Palmerson is the prime minister.

1859  -- Disraeli sponsors a moderate government reform bill; defeated and Tories out again.

1865-1866  --  Liberal Earl Russell prime minister.

1866-1868  --  Conservative Earl of Derby prime minister. 

1866 --  Tories able to topple the government of the Whig-Liberal leader Lord Russell; Derby forms his third minority government with Disraeli as chancellor of the Exchequer. Helps push forward a reform bill that doubled the existing electorate and was more democratic than most Conservatives had foreseen.

1868  --  Derby retires; Conservative Disraeli becomes prime minister in a caretaker government. Liberals win the election. Disraeli sets a precedent by resigning before Parliament meets.

next 12 years --  party leaders, Disraeli and William E. Gladstone, implacable enemies.

1868-1874  --  Liberal William Gladstone prime minister.

1870  -- political novel Lothair.

1872  --  Disraeli runs the party with a firm hand, putting forth a policy to consolidate the empire, with special emphasis on India, and has a strong foreign policy, especially against Russia.

1872 --  Disraeli's wife dies of cancer; he begins a romantic friendship with two sisters, Lady Bradford and Lady Chesterfield.

1873  --  Gladstone's ministry is defeated and resigns, but Gladstone has to continue because Disraeli refuses to take office.

1874-1880  --  Conservative Disraeli prime minister.  Conservatives win big, but for Disraeli it comes too late.  He ages rapidly, but profits from the friendship of Queen Victoria, a political conservative who disliked Gladstone. He does manage some real social reform:  Public Health Act of 1875; and a series of factory acts preventing the exploitation of labor.

1875 the Khedive of Egypt goes bankrupt and needs to sell his shares in the Suez Canal in order to get some money. Disraeli purchases 176,602 shares in the Canal in order to stop the Canal from falling into French hands. Disraeli persuades Lionel de Rothschild to lend the British government the 4m needed to make the purchase.

1876  --  a bill confers on Queen Victoria the title empress of India. Disraeli's poor health leads him to accept the peerage of the earl of Beaconsfield and becomes leader in the House of Lords.

1880  -- he starts a decline with disaster in Afghanistan, forces slaughtered in South Africa, agricultural distress, and an industrial slump. The Conservatives lose big in the election of 1880.

1880-1885  --  Liberal William Gladstone prime minister.

1880  -- Endymion, a nostalgic political novel about his early career.

1881  --  his health fails rapidly and he dies on April 19 in London.  

 

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