The Mudlark (1950)

 

 

 

 

Director:    Jean Negulesco

Starring:     Irene Dunne (Queen Victoria), Alec Guinness (Benjamin Disraeli), Andrew Ray (Wheeler, the Mudlark), Beatrice Campbell (Lady Emily Prior), Finlay Currie (John Brown),  Anthony Steel (Lt. Charles McHatten), Raymond Lovell (Sgt. Footman Naseby),  Majorie Fielding (Lady Margaret Prior), Constance Smith (Kate Noonan), Edward Ribby (The Watchman),  Ronan O'Casey (Slattery).  

Queen Victoria (Irene Dunne) comes out of her mourning depression after meeting a waif. Alec Guinness plays the role of Prime Minister Disraeli.  

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

"There is a legend that in the thirty-ninth year of Her Majesty's reign a small boy added a footnote to English history."

Wheeler, the mudlark, picks up oysters at the rivery shore.  He finds a man dead and takes off him some valuables.  One special item is a large broach with a likeness of Queen Victoria.  One of the bigger mudlarks sees him and tries to take the broach from him, but Wheeler fights hard to keep it.   Another mudlark is stealing the boots off the dead man and the boy fighting with Wheeler lets the younger boy go in order to claim the boots. 

Wheeler and the other mudlarks do trade with a local merchant.  He sees the broach in Wheeler's hand and will give a shilling for it, but Wheeler keeps saying no.  So the merchants tells him to get out of his store.  A bigger boy asks the merchants if he would give him a shilling if he got the broach from Wheeler?  Sure. 

Wheeler walks under the boardwalk and gets in a empty keg which is where he sleeps.  The boy and an accomplice find him and try forcefully to take the broach from him.  They get it and then run away.  The mudlark follows them.  A man on the docks stops the two boys.  When Wheeler arrives to claim his possession one of the boys throws the broach into the River Thames.  Wheeler jumps into the river to retrieve the item.  And now Wheeler remembers that he can't swim.  The man on the docks jumps in and saves the boy.  He also gets the broach back for Wheeler. 

Wheeler warms himself by the fire.  The dock man explains to Wheeler that the person on the broach is Victoria, the Queen of the United Kingdom. Wheeler says he never heard of the lady before.  The dock man is amazed at the boy's not knowing his own queen.  The boy even thinks that England is a place in London.  The dock man straightens the boy out on that subject.  Wheeler says he would like to see the Queen in real life, but the dock man says that's hard to do because she lives in Windsor Castle which is guarded by a great many guards.  He goes on to say that the castle is about 20 miles from here by river and that William the Conqueror and Richard the Lionheart once lived there. 

Wheeler sets off walking to Windsor Castle.  The boy tries to get into the castle but all the entrance gates are guarded.  The Prime Minister, Mr. Disraeli, arrives by coach and is allowed onto the grounds.  Wheeler goes to a small gate that is not guarded.  He finds that the gate is not locked.  So he goes onto the grounds.  He stays hidden from the guards. 

Mr. Brown, the Scot Highlander, asks to see Mr. Disraeli.  Brown, who is a bit inebriated, has come to get Disraeli to take him to see Queen Victoria.  Disraeli asks Brown about her health.  Victoria has been in a depression since the death of her husband Albert  in 1861.  Brown says she's about the same.   

Disraeli says that there is a lot of talk about Her Majesty's regrettable protracted absence from London.  He says that it would be good if Her Majesty would reconsider the wisdom of her policy of solitude.  He explains that the Reform Bill to help the poor would greatly benefit from the public support of the Queen for the bill. It would certainly increase the likelihood of the bill passing through Parliament.  The people almost feel slighted by the Queen's public absence.  Republicanism has become highly fashionable these days.  This upsets the Queen, who says she is so lonely.  Disraeli dares tell her that she is not alone and that there are thousands of people just waiting to tell her how much they have missed seeing their Queen in public. 

The Prime Minister pulls out a letter of invitation to attend the 100th anniversary of the Foundling Hospital.  She again says she is alone, but now adds that she often feels afraid.  She reminisces about the days with Albert. She feels happier and more content at Windsor where she is surrounded by so many items that help her remember Albert.  She says the very thought of going out in public now fills her with terror and she just doesn't see how she can do it.  Nevertheless, she does says that if the matter is so important in Disraeli's consideration, then she will try to find the courage to go. 

Wheeler sneaks around the outdoors of the castle.  He suddenly falls down a coal chute, which brings him into the castle.  Two men come into the large room.  It's the coal men delivering more coal.  Wheeler keeps out of their sight.  After they leave, he starts looking around the castle.  He finds a very long hallway with many busts of famous people.  He has to hide from the Captain of the Guard, Lt. Charles McHatten..  He knocks on a door close to Wheeler's hiding place.  It seems the young woman, Emily, in the room and Charles are romantically involved, but have to keep their relationship quiet.  Charles quickly has to leave as they both hear someone coming down the hall.

The young woman's mother is a friend of the Queen and she at present is with Victoria.  Mr. Brown has come to collect the young woman.  After they've gone, Wheeler goes into the young lady's room.  Then he goes into her bedroom.  He bounces up and down on her bed.  He then grabs a bunch of cherries from a dish and spits a pit out onto the carpet. 

The Queen asks Emily about this Lt. McHatten.  What do the two of them talk about?  Emily answers Tennyson's poetry.  The lieutenant can quote from Tennyson.  The Queen tells the mother Margaret that sounds harmless enough.   Has the lieutenant asked her to marry him?  Emily says, oh, no.  Mother speaks up and says this relationship is regrettable because Emily is the daughter of a peer.  She has an obligation to make a marriage of distinction.  The lieutenant is only the son of a clergyman.  The Queen decides that she is going to forbid Emily from ever seeing this Charles McHatten ever again.  Emily says that's not fair.  The Queen says she could send the lieutenant out of the country, to India perhaps.  Emily says that's also unfair.  She states that she if a freeborn woman who can choose the man she wants to marry by herself.  Victoria tells Emily to go to her room immediately.  

Wheeler goes exploring some more.  He comes to a huge banquet room.  He keeps spitting out his cherry pits.  He takes some candy, but doesn't like it and so takes it out of his mouth and puts it back in the candy dish.  When two servants come in, a man and a woman, they have to clean up after Wheeler.  The man scolds the maid for poor cleaning.  He then leaves.  Wheeler, thinking the coast is clear, exposes himself to the maid.  He tries to get away from her, but she grabs him.  She scolds the boy, but then says she's going to try to get him out of here safely without being discovered. 

The candle lighter, Slattery, comes in to light all the many candles.  He flirts with the maid, who shows no real interest in him.  The fellow is an Irishman and he jokes around about burning down Windsor Castle, which, he says, would warm many the hearts of Irishmen.  He pretends his is going light the table cloth on fire and discovers Wheeler.  Slattery talks about reporting this incident to Naseby, but Miss Noonan tells him he better think about that long and hard because the boy heard every word said about burning down Windsor Castle.  Naseby approaches and Miss Noonan puts Wheeler behind some curtains.  Naseby is upset that the two servants are still in the room and he chases them out. 

And now comes in Queen Victoria and her guests.  Wheeler goes to sleep during the dinner and starts snoring.  The Queen hears the sounds of what she thinks is either heavy breathing or snoring.  She gets up to investigate.  The ladies all have to leave the room.  The male guests and the servants now start looking behind the curtains.  Mr. Brown even has his dagger in his hand.  He throws open one set of curtains, but no one is there.  But now they see a little boy scurry out of the next set of curtains to hide under the table.  The men pounce on the little boy and he starts screaming in fear.  The men all say the boy reeks and his is fouling the room.  Naseby grabs him saying that he is going to give the boy a bath immediately.  He carries the boy, who is vigorously wiggling trying to get free of Naseby, and walks him toward the bathroom. 

Victoria, Margaret, Disraeli and Mr. Brown discuss the matter while having tea.  Mr. Brown says he and others will have to investigate the boy's background to make sure he is not connected with some conspiracy. They start discussing various matters and the Queen informs Disraeli that she will not be attending any public meetings or get-togethers.  Disraeli is a bit upset that the Queen seems to going back on her agreement to attend the 100th anniversary of the Foundling Hospital. 

The boy is given a bath and clothes for a new outfit.  Naseby now starts his interrogation of the boy in front of the whole staff.  Mr. Brown comes over and takes over the interrogation saying that Naseby is just scaring the boy to death.  Brown now learns that no one sent the boy to the castle.  He just walked to the castle from London and sneaked onto the grounds.  Miss Noonan now scolds Mr. Brown for scaring the boy and making him cry.  She also says that the boy's hungry.  So Brown has the maid go get the boy some food.  The boy starts eating with his hands, which shocks the staff and Mr. Brown.  Brown has to teach the boy how to use the fork near him. 

Emily is going to elope.  She leaves a note for her mother in her room.  McHatten is going to meet her when Naseby grabs the lieutenant telling him that the Queen is in danger from an assassin.  McHatten follows the man.  Emily goes outside calling softly for Charles.  When Naseby returns they say that Mr. Brown took the boy with him.  McHatten says, if they need to, they can bring in the troops to look for the boy.  All the servants go out looking for the boy and Mr. John Brown. 

Brown takes the boy out to show him how Wheeler got into the castle.  He says that he does not know of any hole around the castle where someone can enter.  As he says the boy is lying, he falls in the hole, goes down the chute and lands on the coal pile. 

It's raining and Emily is getting all wet.  She is also very upset that McHatten didn't show up.  She tries to get back into the castle, but the door is locked. 

After cleaning himself up, Brown decides to take the boy in to speak with the Queen herself. 

Slattery comes out the door and Emily rushes inside the castle. 

Brown and the boy are spotted by some maids.  Brown gives Wheeler a little guided tour of some of the big rooms in the castle.  Wheeler is very impressed.  He even gets to see the throne of Her Majesty.  Mr. Brown tells the boy to get up on the throne.  Wheeler wonders if he dare, but Brown just keeps telling him to get up there.  So he does. 

Now McHatten and all the staff pour into the throne room.  McHatten demands that Brown turn over the boy to him.  And now comes in Naseby and the troops.  Brown is amazed at the size of the crowd and asks:  ". . . is the whole castle to come down on us now?" McHatten pulls out his sword to threaten Brown to release the boy.  Disraeli, a cooler head, now intervenes.  He tells Brown to give the boy to the lieutenant.  But the boy says he won't leave Mr. Brown's side.  Disraeli tells a trooper to grab the boy, which he does.  During this, a drunken Brown falls to the floor.  Disraeli tells Naseby to have Brown escorted to his room.   

The whole incident gets blown out of proportion and headlines appear saying that the Queen was endangered.  The police grill the poor boy.  One headline reads:  "Mystery of the dwarf assassin."

The Queen learns about all this nonsense and she calls for Disraeli.  She tells him that she feels like she could just wring the neck of that little boy.  Disraeli advises her that this whole incident has been vastly exaggerated.  The Queen says this incident could make the government look foolish, so she wants the matter squashed. 

The police bring down the whole group of people that Wheeler thinks will testify to his good character.  But all the people are afraid of being arrested for something they didn't do through guilt by association.  The policeman asks if Wheeler wants to tell the truth now?  He goes back in his cell for a good cry. 

The Times, London, carry the headline:  "Boy Wheeler in Irish plot?"  This incident is still getting out of hand.  So Disraeli sends for McHatten. 

Emily is trying to elope with McHatten again, but the assistant to the Prime Minister grabs the lieutenant.  Another elopement broken.  Poor Emily now waits out in the snow.  Disraeli has his assistant write down every word McHatten says about the boy and the events of that night. 

The next day Emily has a cold.  The Queen tells her that she is sending the lieutenant to India, but with the rank of captain.  Emily is dejected, but then the Queen criticizes Emily's mother for being an uncommonly insensitive woman.  This shocks Emily.  The Queen adds that Emily is unlikely to find someone else as good as her Albert. 

So Emily writes a note to say she has gone off and for her to please understand.  And this time McHatten is able to show up.  The two hug and kiss each other. 

The House of Commons takes up the case of Wheeler and the Queen.  An Irish member of Parliament states apologizing for any distress caused to Her Majesty, but he wants the House of Commons to assert that no Irishman was involved in any conspiracy to assassinate the Queen.  Disraeli gets up to set the matter straight.  He says there is no evidence of an Irish conspiracy against the Queen.  Then he says the amazing thing about young Wheeler is how did he manage to make it to the age of ten given his poor background?  He says:  "I ask you to think of how hard society tried to kill him?"    To kill him from neglect and poverty.  The society even denied him hope.

Disraeli goes on with his impassioned speech.  At the end he gets a standing ovation. 

The Queen is, however, upset at Disraeli.  She tells Brown:  "He spoke as if I was personally responsible for the boy's position."  Brown supports Disraeli's argument and makes the Queen very mad at him. 

The Queen summons Disraeli.  Brown lets him into the Queen's room.  She tells him:  ". . . you deliberately administered a public rebuke to the Queen."  He says it was a reproach, not a rebuke.  She doesn't agree.  And Disraeli has to admit that he did disobey her request not to talk about the Wheeler affair.  Disraeli says that he won't stand for one second in the way of a successor.  Victoria remains firm, but Mr. Brown comes to the rescue.  He reminds the Queen that her husband has been dead for fifteen years and the Wheeler boy is still very much alive.  Who will the Queen serve:  the living or the dead?  Victoria tells Brown to leave the room.  Brown, however, will not stop talking.  He gives her good advice, but she's just not hearing it. 

They are interrupted by a sound coming from behind the curtains.  Yes, it's Wheeler again.  The Queen tells Brown to take that boy out of here.  Brown protests rightfully and Disraeli says that if the Queen could spend a minute or two with the lad, he is sure the boy can assure her that she is loved at least by one of her subjects.  Victoria sits down and says:  "Bring him here!"  She says he's a naughty boy, and is surprised when Wheeler agrees with her.  She almost smiles and that breaks the ice a bit.  The boy shows her the broach he took off a dead sailor. 

She tells Wheeler that he caused them a great deal of trouble.  "Why did you do it?"  He says:  "I just wanted to see you, mame."  Now her heart melts a bit and she tells Wheeler that she is not mad at him anymore.  She tells Brown to take care of the boy.  Brown and Wheeler leave the room.  The Queen now decides she will attend the 100th anniversary of the Foundling Hospital.  She offers her hand and Disraeli kisses it, saying:  "Most understanding of all Sovereigns." 

The Queen is seen in public again to great cheers of the people. 


This is a cute childhood adventure story about the time that the poor little Mudlark boy helped save the British Empire.  He caused a lot of worry and fuss in Britain, but his basic good nature and kindness, and his holding the queen in such high esteem, cheers the queen up and she comes out of her depression (due to the death of her husband Albert) and go back to her work as the queen.  The movie is a comedy, because the great amount of fuss and bother being  made over this one son of Britain at times seems too ridiculous to be true.  Irene Dunne (Queen Victoria), Alec Guinness (Benjamin Disraeli) and Andrew Ray (Wheeler, the Mudlark) all did very good acting jobs. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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