This listing is for The Great Mr Handel VHS Video Tape Movie.
Actors: Wilfrid Lawson, Elizabeth Allan, Malcolm Keen, Michael Shepley, Max Kirby
Directors: Norman Walker
Writers: Gerald Elliott, L. du Garde Peach, Victor MacLure
Producers: James B. Sloan
Format: Color, NTSC
Number of tapes: 1
VHS Release Date: June 1, 1942
Run Time: 110 minutes
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. Norman Walker brings the story of the creation of Handel's Messiah to the screen, in one of the first British films to be shot in Technicolour. The film was made to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Handel's masterpiece and was released on video for the 250th.
Handel's Messiah has been a favorite of millions of people for centuries. It has been sung and performed all over the globe, especially during the Christmas and Easter seasons. This movie tells the story behind the writing of that masterpiece. The first two thirds sets the context of the man and his struggles. Then most of last third is spent showing what it may have been like to compose that immortal work of art. At the end there was a short segment of the grand performance of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Out of personal hardships and illness came this amazing work that has endured. A few other people played a huge role in bringing this to past. There is an indication of how his personal fellowship with God influenced him during this creative process. Plus the period costumes and antique like sets give a beautiful visual history lesson.
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