The 1948 British historical romance ‘Saraband for Dead Lovers’ is being release for the first time on Blu-ray, as well as on DVD and Digital.
The lavish post-war film was Ealing Studios’ first colour production and fell back upon British history for war-scarred audiences. It told the story of the wife of King George I. Although Sophie Dorothea was the mother of King George II, her role in history was sidelined for many years at the behest of George I. ‘Saraband for Dead Lovers’ tells the tale of her bitter arranged marriage to the German Prince George Louis (later the British monarch) at the age of only fifteen, and her thwarted yet reciprocated love for the Swedish Count Konigsmark.
The film captures well the intrigues of the Hanoverian court in the Seventeenth Century. The German countryside is depicted as verdant and peppered with fairytale castles. Lavish sets dressed with vivid reds complete the illusion of the excesses of the ruling classes. One of the film’s key strengths is excellent use of location filming, both in the always-picturesque Prague and the much-used Blenheim Palace.
The story is a straightforward romance. The beautiful young Sophie Dorothea (Joan Greenwood) is unhappy in her arranged marriage to the oafish Prince George Louis (Peter Bull). When the handsome Count Konigsmark (Stewart Granger) comes into her life, she falls in love with him, but the positions and events in the court work against them. Konigsmark’s former lover Countess Platen (Flora Robson), who is still in love with him, also does her utmost to undermine the affair.
‘Saraband for Dead Lovers’ assembles an excellent cast. Joan Greenwood, perhaps best-remembered for her many roles in Ealing Comedies, convinces as the noble heroine. Stewart Granger, who would later make the move to Hollywood, is handsome and glowering as the noble Swedish count, and one of those British actors who always looked more at home in period costumes than in contemporary clothing. Flora Robson was always a dependable talent, and she is unusually sympathetic here as the meddling and scheming Countess. Other British character actors of note guest star. Anthony Quayle, who was in projects as diverse as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘The Guns of Navarone’ is one the Prince’s loyal men, whilst Michael Gough (the valet Alfred in the Tim Burton-directed ‘Batman’ films) plays a foppish young prince.
The film will appeal to those who love sumptuous costume dramas and British films of the 1940s. Director Basil Dearden was a consummate professional and one of the most talented British filmmakers of the era. He worked extensively for Ealing Studios, but later directed Dirk Bogarde in the film ‘Victim’. His final film was ‘The Man Who Haunted Himself’ in which he arguably coaxed the greatest performance of his career out of James Bond-star Roger Moore. His directorial flourishes are in evidence in ‘Saraband for Dead Lovers’, particularly in a sequence set during a spectacular masked ball in which Joan Greenwood rushes through a crowd of revellers. The romance at the heart of the story doesn’t especially sparkle though. The movie is of value for a great cast, stunning location filming and design work as well as assured direction, but a better structure to the story would ensure that the doomed romance is more compelling and emotionally engaging.
Extra features include a thorough, twenty-five minute analysis of the film and its place in history by critics and journalists, as well as a shorter piece on the incredible restoration work. The picture quality is stunningly sharp and the colours are impressively rich. One sequence shot in Prague in the summer of 1947 looks as if it could have been filmed recently. All in all, it’s good, solid British filmmaking.
Cast: Stewart Granger, Joan Greenwood, Flora Robson, Francoise Rosay, Frederick Valk, Peter Bull, Anthony Quayle, Michael Gough Director: Basil Dearden Writer: John Dighton, Alexander Mackendrick Certificate: PG Duration: 96 mins Released by: Studiocanal Release date: 13th March 2023 Buy ‘Saraband for Dead Lovers’ now