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This stirring historical drama brought Laurence Olivier (Hamlet, Richard III) and Vivien Leigh (Gone With the Wind, That Hamilton Woman) together on screen for the first time. Set during the reign of Elizabeth I, William K. Howard's (The Power and the Glory) Fire Over England boasts dazzling cinematography, grand sets and costumes, and a first-rate cast. The then-unknown Olivier stars as a dashing naval officer whose daring leads the British to victory over the Spanish Armada. Proving himself a true swashbuckler, he charms many a maiden, infiltrates King Philip's court, and escapes by his sword and his wit. Leigh is exquisite as the lady-in-waiting who wins his heart forever. Other outstanding performances include Flora Robson as the courageous yet vulnerable queen and Raymond Massey as the power-hungry Philip.
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Alexander Korda often enlisted Tinseltown talent to lend his British productions some Hollywood pizzazz. For this spirited historical film about the intrigues and counter-intrigues leading up to the Spanish Armada's assault against Queen Elizabeth's brave little island, William K. Howard directed and the cameraman was the great James Wong Howe. Still, it's the Russian French art director Lazare Meerson who takes top honors with his ethereal sets. The swashbuckling pales beside Captain Blood or The Prisoner of Zenda, but the diplomatic crosstalk and young Larry Olivier's James-Bond-in-a-ruff act are delicious. Vivien Leigh is Olivier's love interest (on screen and off), and royalty is royally served by Flora Robson's gusty Good Queen Bess (a role she reprised in The Sea Hawk) and Raymond Massey's wonderfully lugubrious Philip of Spain. Robert Newton plays another Spaniard, and if you don't blink you'll glimpse James Mason as the traitorous Hillary Vane. --Richard T. Jameson
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