Beau Brummell is the essential film to understanding the historical dandy. Coming into power during the decline of King George III, he was the kinda fop needed to train the Prince of Wales. But, what is the United Kingdom going to do with a drunk gambler who fancies himself a pretty boy? Our boy Beau is going to turn High Society on its ass by teaching these gross Brits to brush their teeth and wipe properly.
Costume dramas are such a fantastic mess. So much attention paid to making everyone look good. These films tend to be stuffy and overwrought. Yet, half of their target audience only focuses on the visuals. What I wish we got were more painfully accurate historical takes on costume dramas. People not quite getting all the snaps and buttons undone before nature called. Look it up, dear readers.
The early 1950s saw the studio system going big. So big that they broke the Academy ratio and went into Cinemascope to compete with the devilish Television. Beau Brummell was shot in a soft flat 1.75:1 ratio that feels like a compromise. Given the fact that the film was in production before a widescreen standard was set, this feels more like a closed matte presentation. By now, I’ve lost the casuals.
Peter Ustinov as a young Brit prince is funny to me. While I’m a Ustinov fan, he has that kind of face that never screamed young man. However, his looks play into the nature of the character. The Prince Regent at the time wasn’t well-liked. He was the ultimate symbol of privilege and access to the Throne.
What’s funny is that Ustinov’s jovial look plays so well into the Beau Brummell story. For those that don’t know, Brummell fell out of grace with royal society for cracking a 19th century fat joke at the Prince’s expense. It didn’t hurt that Beau Brummell was thousands of pounds in debt. Now, things have changed and what’s a Dandy Hussar going to do to save face?!?
I truly adore the opulence of 1950s cinema. The last bits of that three strip color era mixed with hand crafted costumes produces something intriguing. That Eastman Color feel mixed with the warm flushes of flesh is a visual treat that will make you overlook the underpinnings of the film.
Beau Brummell is a Slobs vs. Snobs movie dressed up in British costume drama. While our lead eventually craps out on charm, he effectively challenges the Royal Court and Society to revisit how they present themselves. Elizabeth Taylor also appears as the lead woman. That’s it. That’s her entire role.
Warner Archive is reaching deeper than Criterion has been recently. You don’t get any special features, but I’d be shocked if they existed. The A/V Quality is visually appeasing with one of the warmest transfers I’ve ever seen. Still, I wish that Warner Archive would try to recreate how these movies were shown back in the 1950s. Their 30s and 40s major releases come with those newsreels and vintage cartoons. Something similar could pay off big time.