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His Lordship (1932)


Main image of His Lordship (1932)
35mm, black and white, 74 mins
Directed byMichael Powell
Production CompanyWestminster Films
Produced byJerome Jackson
Screen Play byRalph Smart
PhotographyGeoffrey Faithfull
 Arthur Grant

Cast: Jerry Verno (Bert Gibbs); Janet Megrew (Ilya Myona); Polly Ward (Leninia); Ben Welden (Washington Roosevelt Lincoln); Michael Hogan ('Comrade Curzon'); V.C. Clinton-Baddeley ('Comrade Howard')

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A plumber and reluctant peer attracts the attention of a Hollywood starlet looking to marry a British aristocrat for publicity.

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One of Michael Powell's early 'quota quickies' (he made seven in 1932 alone), His Lordship is a light and frothy musical comedy that intriguingly anticipates many of Powell's far greater films. The way the musical numbers are integrated organically into the action anticipates Tales of Hoffmann (1951) and Oh.. Rosalinda!! (1955), its portrait of the complexities of the English class system as seen through the eyes of foreigners would later find more eloquent expression in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), and there's even an alarming hint of Peeping Tom (1960) in a close-up of an abandoned photograph of film star Ilya Myona being speared by a park-keeper's stick.

However, audiences of the time were oblivious to this, and the film's critical and commercial reception was very poor. Kinematograph Weekly complained that it was too ambitious for its own good, saying that "'This effort, which starts off as a musical comedy, drifts into burlesque, then finishes up in a rich satirical vein, is neither flesh, fowl, or good red herring." This is hard to deny, but it also shows that Powell's ambitions were racing ahead of his budgets even at this very early stage.

The premise promises much: Cockney plumber Bert Gibbs inherits a peerage from his father, which complicates his relationship with his avowedly communist fiancée Leninia, after two trouble-making Bolsheviks (nicknamed 'Comrade Curzon' and 'Comrade Howard' to disguise foreign origins) spill the beans. But in the meantime, Bert has been embroiled in a scheme concocted by overbearing American publicity agent Washington Lincoln that involves him marrying and divorcing a Russian-born film star in order to raise her profile and give him some much-needed cash.

But in practice, most performances tend towards broad caricature, and only Jerry Verno (in his fourth film for Powell) is particularly convincing as the hapless Bert. In fact, despite budgetary limitations, Powell does better with musical numbers, with their choreographed secretaries, photographers, Beefeaters and ermine-clad peers. The camera is impressively mobile for an early sound film, though this may have been for reasons of efficiency, in order to minimise the need for multiple camera set-ups.

Following its commercial failure, His Lordship vanished for six decades and was long believed lost (as many of Powell's 'quota quickies' still are). However, following the BFI's 'Missing Believed Lost' campaign, a print was discovered in a private collection and screened at the 1997 London Film Festival.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
A momentous wedding (8:42)
Production stills
Verno, Jerry (1894-1975)
Early Michael Powell
Lost Then Found