Oscar Movies: Private Lives of Elizabeth of Essex (1939)–Historical Drama Starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn

Bette Davis did not get along with co-star Errol Flynn when they made The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

Davis had wanted Laurence Olivier to play the Earl of Essex opposite her Queen Elizabeth I. She was forced to compromise, but refused to allow Flynn top billing.

Director Michael Curtiz made a lavish Technicolor entertainment, which received five Oscar nominations, though won none.

Adapted by Norman Reilly Raine and Aeneas McKenzie from Maxwell Anderson’s play Elizabeth the Queen, the story concerns the tempestuous relationship between the middle-aged Elizabeth and the ambitious Essex.

The Queen intends to marry Essex and relinquish her throne, until she realizes that his plans for advancement would prove disastrous for England. When afforded the opportunity to execute Essex for treason, she reluctantly signs his death warrant. Elizabeth begs Essex to ask for a pardon, but, fully aware that his warlike policies will only resurface if he is permitted to live, he refuses to accept the Queen’s mercy.

Olivia de Havilland plays the lady-in-waiting who carries a torch for Essex.

Davis played Elizabeth I again 16 years later in the movie, The Virgin Queen.

Oscar Nominations: 5

Cinematography (color): Sol Polito and W. Howard Greene

Interior Decoration: Anton Grot

Sound Recoding: Nathan Levinson

Score: Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Special Effects: Byron Haskin, photographic; Nathan Levinson, sound

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The Cinematography Oscar went to Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan for Gone With the Wind, which also won.

Art Direction for Lyle Wheeler.

The Sound Oscar went to When Tomorrow Comes, the Score Oscar to Stagecoach, and the Special Effects to The Rains Came.

Running time: 106 minutes