Directed by Basil Dearden and written by Helen Simpson, John Dighton and Alexander Mackendrick, young Sophie Dorothea marries Prince George Louis but it’s far from a love match. Then she falls for Swedish Count Philip Christoph von Königsmark. Starring: Stewart Granger, Joan Greenwood, Flora Robson, Françoise Rosay, Frederick Valk, Peter Bull, Anthony Quayle, Michael Gough and Megs Jenkins.
When 1940s cinema did period pieces, they went all out and Saraband for Dead Lovers is yet another example of that. It’s immediately decadent, extravagant and lush, there’s a fantastic detail to the sets and costumes, not to mention a giant ensemble of extras. It’s drenched in colour which really matches the wealth, privilege and royalty to its story. All of that you’re probably expecting but what you may not be expecting is that Basil Dearden’s direction feels ahead of its time. There’s a style to it, much like modern filmmakers love, which more succinctly matches the emotion of the scene with the visual. Particularly when it comes to fear and difficulty, the way that the camera moves and the editing work really boost the atmosphere, almost adding a horror touch in certain moments.
That comes with its advantages and disadvantages because to a point, it doesn’t feel like this is really a romance story. However, that in itself can be an advantage, it might not be what you went into Saraband for Dead Loverslooking for, but it allows the film to keep a much better pacing and progression than if it got weighed down in big romantic gestures. The risk and patriarchal, royal boxes that Sophie Dorothea (Joan Greenwood) finds herself trapped in, are a big reason of why this story works. It has a split focus between her new found love, escape and fantasy, with her inescapable marriage and the entrapping politics of their society. The only thing that’s missing is more swordplay because when the moment finally arrives, it’s extremely well shot and adds a nice touch of action to the film.
What is a pleasantly expected quality is the acting, it’s a great ensemble and there’s really no faults to be found. Joan Greenwood gives her character a spirited personality one that initially comes with a lot of naivety and hope before her experiences force her to become hardened. Stewart Granger’s Swedish count is classically suave but also savvy, with a lot of pride and not willing to bend as easily as the royals would hope. The two of them enhance this game of manipulation well, and especially when Flora Robson’s countess enters the scene. Funnily enough, Robson is quite possibly the star of this show because the emotion and evolution that her character goes through is the most compelling and intriguing. She’s beautifully conniving but at the same time the story allows us to see the toll that it takes on her.
Saraband for Dead Lovers is a must watch if you’re a fan of classic period dramas. It’s dazzlingly brilliant in its colour, its visual is opulent and self-indulgent in the best way. Basil Dearden’s direction falls outside of the typical playbook for this type of film which is wonderful to see and creates a much more captivating atmosphere than a simple romance. There’s a fantastic cast at work and coming in at the perfect running time of just over ninety minutes, what more could you want?.