Born in September 1666, at the age of sixteen Sophie Dorothea of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Celle became the wife of Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover and later King George of Great Britain and Ireland, but she was not to enjoy that throne, the marriage a brief and bitter one arranged against her wishes and culminating in divorce and banishment, confined to the estate of Ahlden House in Lower Saxony and forbidden from seeing her children until her death in November 1726 at the age of sixty.
Her complicated life and relationships the subject of a 1935 novel by the Australian writer Helen Simpson, Saraband for Dead Lovers was filmed in 1948, directed by The Green Man’s Basil Dearden and starring Joan Greenwood as Sophie, Peter Bull as George, Stewart Granger as the man who gives her comfort and so comes between them, Count Philip Konigsmark, and Flora Robson as Countess Clara Platen, Philip’s jealous and manipulative former lover.
His reputation as a womaniser, a gambler and a cheat preceding him, George Louis, as he is known, is of an established line, his mother the Electress Sophia (Françoise Rosay) looking down at his prospective bride in every way save as a means to an end, to increase the holdings of the family and so their rise to power and the contribution of the expected heirs, the obscene privilege of George and his brother Charles (Michael Gough) having created monsters dismissive of anyone beneath them, laughing as they recount the dead in their failed military campaigns.
The family allegiances complex and shifting rapidly as the film covers a number of years compressed into little over an hour and a half, the opening scenes in particular feel compressed with wedding bells ringing over a background of ominous thunder only fifteen minutes in, the opulence of the production at odds with the rushing urge to get to the next assignation or betrayal, Countess Platen in particular determined to have everyone in her debt and the sinister Durer (Anthony Quayle) acting as her eyes and ears at court.
With exteriors shot at Blenheim Palace and in Prague as well as extensive studio work – though not quite as impressive as might seem at first glance, with modern high definition rendering the borders between set and backdrop visible – as well as impressive model work to recreate the architecture of 17th century Hanover, Saraband for Dead Lovers was Ealing Studio’s first colour production, though filled with reds, blues, yellows, greens and pinks it might occasionally have benefitted from judicious restraint.
A worthy addition to StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics range, the supporting features on the new edition of Saraband for Dead Lovers include an extensive behind the scenes gallery, a documentary on the complex restoration process of the thirty reels of the three colour strip negative, an interview with film historian Doctor Josephine Botting and a discussion of the film with Phuong Le and Matthew Sweet.