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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    This is not a good film in several ways - the impression is given that Handel wrote the Messiah and nothing else, and the dialogue scenes are extremely dull and long, and not of very good quality - but it is worth seeing for the color and the lighting.



    The color is so often of excellent quality in British films of the period. But this is slightly different: both lighting and the color combine to create an atmosphere that is very impressive. I know nothing about the technical aspect of making films, so I have no idea why this film is different. But it intrigues me.



    Also, Wilfrid Lawson and the beautiful Elizabeth Allen are very good in their roles.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    This was amost certainly the most expensive production of J Arthur Rank' s 'Religious Films Unit' headed by Norman Walker , and very much as personal project for JAR, a devout Methodist (see the 'Faith Films' thread :



    So that Handel's Messiah could be heard in its full mono glory, JAR had special amplifier / loudpeaker systems installed in the Odeon Leicester Square just for the run of this film in 1942 !



    The BFI released this film on VHS about 10 years ago - a fully restored DVD would be most welcome....The Technicolor cinematography by the great Jack Cardiff and Claude Friese-Greene takes on an almost psychedelic quality at times ....





    George Frederick Handel (Wilfred Lawson) had long enjoyed success in England, his adopted country, as a composer of Italian operas. By 1738, when the story commences, his works are no longer fashionable and his fortunes are waning. Yet he will not pander to fashion, nor the establishment, nor even to royalty. Deliberately returning insulting behaviour by the foppish Frederick, Prince of Wales, the Prince's circle sabotages all attempts at public performance of Handel's works. For three years his oppression continues. After a long illness, the libretto of an oratorio entitled 'Messiah' is put into his hands. Handel's long sense that he has yet greater works within him is fulfilled as he works night and day to complete the great masterpiece, which would have its first performance in Dublin. In the final scene of the film, at a performance in London, King George II rises to his feet during the Alleluia Chorus - no-one should sit to such music in praise of God, and no English audience has done so since.This film, whilst paying fulsome tribute to the composer, yet reflects the concerns of wartime Britain. The country has been isolated, thrown back on its own resources and its own traditions. Churchill leads a coalition government - only as one nation might Britain endure, and the society that had brought the sufferings of the First World War and the great depression must be transformed. It seems odd to find such concerns so central to the film biography of an eighteenth century composer. But so they are, not obviously nor crassly, but in the character of Handel.



    No respect is shown by Handel, nor the film-makers, for Prince Frederick and his toadying, malevolent court. His respect is, though, given to the soprano, Mrs Cibber (Elizabeth Allan), with whom he enjoys a refreshingly warm and spontaneous relationship. Handel's relationships with those lower in the social scale are also positive and approved: the mutual warmth and informality with his manservant, Phineas (Hay Petrie); his rescue of the orphaned Kytsch brothers; even the invitation of his tradesmen-creditors to an impromptu recital. Likewise he is shown taking musical ideas from the cries of the street sellers, and the ordinary people in the streets accord him an attentiveness of hearing and concern for his welfare that contrasts with the indifference of fashionable London. These social concerns are, in large measure, anachronistic, but it is the integrity of the film that matters, not its accuracy as biography, nor as a social history of Handel's times.



    Despite its roots in the secular theatre, the treatment of Handel's music is, from the start, theological. The composer finds his gifts in God and their fruits are dedicated to his glory. The beauty of the music is transcendent and, during his feverish, inspired, composition of 'Messiah' Handel is transported with a sense of worship and glory.



    The film is shot in wonderful Technicolor, by Claude Friese-Green and Jack Cardiff, emphasising a subtle range of blues, reds and pinks. The sets are rather stagey, but this seems intentional. So many of the scenes are firmly framed, shot through doors and archways, or with strong architectural lines around them. They appear almost as a succession of painted conversation pieces so typical of eighteenth century English painters, some even as still-lives, some as appearing within the proscenium of a theatre. This is most obvious in the succession of religious visions that Handel experiences in the night-time, as he looks up from his desk as he is writing Messiah. Through the night-time window the biblical scenes are presented to him, the first most magical of all, as Handel holds up his candle and it lights the star that will guide the Magi.



    Wilfred Lawson, despite a constant struggle to avoid hamming, mysteriously turns in a performance as moving and brilliant as the part requires. Elizabeth Allan and Hay Petrie are each completely convincing in their important supporting roles, as are the rest of the cast.



    This is a surprising miracle of a film, low-key in a characteristically British way, it looks back to a great ikon of Britain's past and explores the issues that would determine its future for the next fifty years, and beyond. This is not Norman Walker's only masterpiece, but it is as great as any.

  3. #3
    Senior Member dpgmel's Avatar
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    Avery underrated film IMHO and a BFI dvd release would be more than welcome.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpgmel

    Avery underrated film IMHO and a BFI dvd release would be more than welcome.
    It has the look of an ambitious production. Considering that it was made in the midst of the war it is even more impressive.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: UK didi-5's Avatar
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    I really like this film - I'm not sure why, maybe the colours, maybe the music, maybe Wilfred Lawson's wonderful performance as Handel. An underrated film indeed.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    I have only seen Wilfred Lawson in two films: this and Pastor Hall. He was a gifted actor and very unusual in his reserve.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: UK CaptainWaggett's Avatar
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    Inspired by this thread, I watched The Great Mr Handel last night, so thank you Tim for mentioning it. It reminded me of one of those BBC4 dramas about a showbiz figure - studio-bound, fairly small cast, predictable, well-acted and not something that needs to be seen more than once . I agree that the colour was different from the usual 1940s Technicolour but that may be the print rather than the photography. I assume there was some sort of propaganda intention to it but the message of not being beastly to the Germans because they write nice tunes and not listening to royals because they're all philistines seemed an odd one for wartime

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