Disraeli (Disraeli: The Noble Ladies of Scandal) Reviews
Disraeli focuses primarily on the flamboyant 19th century British Prime Minister's attempt to seize control of the Suez Canal for his queen and country. George Arliss does a very fine job at bringing to life the lively, flamboyant, and clever Victorian historical figure. With his peculiar hairstyle, ringed fingers, and vibrant speeches, Arliss's Disraeli is one Victorian era politician I know would not be dull company. The film begins with scenes of people in different parts of London talking up Disraeli's political rival, William Gladstone. They fear and despise Disraeli, and also build an interest in him. In addition to rivals within the British government, he also has to contend with Russian spies that want control of the Suez for their own empire. The Prime Minister proves to be more cunning than his opponents believed of him, working on negotiations to purchase shares of the canal in secret while Parliament is out of session.
Disraeli reveals his political and practical wisdom through monologues that, while lengthy, are not preachy and are excellently delivered by Arliss. His monologue to convince his protégé, Charles of the necessity of British control of the canal is similar to one of Plato's dialogues. Through a lengthy back and forth Disraeli allows his listener to reach the conclusion he wants through what the other person thinks is their own conclusion. This is most effective in the heated speech Disraeli delivers to secure final financing for the purchase of the canal shares. In addition to those particular scenes, Arliss has several good speeches delivered with solid, thunderous authority. I'm sure some scenes playout as they did on stage, but they still work on the screen because of the performances from the fine cast.
Any casual student of film has at some point read or heard about the low ceilings in Citizen Kane. It was the first film to significantly show ceilings and if you wonder why that is a big deal I would show you the unusually tall walls of several rooms in Disraeli. Since these rooms are sets built on sound stages, the high walls hide the rest of the soundstage comfortably. It is slightly distracting since you know the building they are in has a second floor.
The sound quality of the film is so good that you don't notice it, aside from a couple of times when it cuts out for less than a second, but that is likely just an issue with the VHS tape I was watching-to date, Disraeli has yet to be released on DVD and is somewhat difficult to track down. The sound quality of the outdoor scenes is vastly improved from the first outdoor talkie, In Old Arizona-made only a year prior.
Disraeli is not all politics and foreign relations, however. There are many light and humorous moments throughout, thanks mostly to the personality of the Prime Minister. A perhaps unintentional humorous moment comes when a female Russian sympathizer eavesdrops on Disraeli's conversation with Charles about the canal by hiding behind a bush, but her very ornate and very visible hat pokes out from behind the bush.
Disraeli's purchase of the Suez Canal might be a footnote today, but it is a footnote that changed the course of world history. I doubt that the details of the true story of Disraeli securing the Suez Canal line up with the scenes in this film, but movies have never been good sources of history, even during the classic era. No matter how accurate or inaccurate to real events, Disraeli is a well-made, entertaining dramatization of one of Britain's most famous Prime Ministers and his major accomplishment.
"a man who never jokes is a standing joke to the world"