The Iron Duke (1934)





Director:    Victor Saville. 

Cast:  George Arliss (Duke of Wellington), Ellaline Terriss (Kitty, Duchess of Wellington), Gladys Cooper (Duchess d'Angouleme), A.E. Matthews (Lord Hill), Alan Aynesworth (Louis XVIII), Lesley Wareing (Lady Frances Webster), Emlyn Williams (Bates), Edmund Willard (Marshal Ney), Norma Varden (Duchess of Richmond), Felix Aylmer (Lord Uxbridge), Gerald Lawrence (Castlereagh), Gibb McLaughlin (Talleyrand), Farren Soutar (Metternich), Walter Sondes (Wedderburn Webster), Frederick Leister (King of Prussia).

historical drama about the Duke of Wellington starring George Arliss


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

1815.  The world is at peace.  Napoleon has been imprisoned on Elba.  The exiled Bourbon King of France Louis XVIII is put in power. 

The Duke of Wellington is traveling in a carriage on bad roads in Spain headed to Vienna, Austria.  Following the defeat of France Austria wants the Netherlands and Russia does not want its rule over Poland challenged.  All the allies involved in defeating Napoleon want something as compensation for their war expenses.

Congress of Vienna 1815.  The representatives of the Allied countries in Vienna learn the bad news that Napoleon has escaped from Elba and will soon be mobilizing his forces.  The Duke of Wellington tells everyone that his headquarters will be in Brussels. 

The Tuileries, Paris, the old palace of the Bourbons to which Louis XVIII has been restored after 23 years of exile.  Louis XVIII asks Marshal Ney his opinion of whether or not the court should move to Ghent for its own safety.  Ney thinks that the court should go.  The King then decides to call his niece (often referred to as Madame) into the discussion.  She is one of the King's best advisers.  She doesn't want the court to go to Ghent.  Madame goes as far as to say that the Duke of Wellington wants to become the king of France.  Nevertheless, Louis XVIII decides to move the court. 

Twenty-five kilometers outside of France a messenger arrives at an inn.  The news is that Napoleon is coming.  Marshal Ney was supposed to help stop Napoleon, but Ney and his 4,000 men went over to Napoleon's side. 

Duke of Wellington's headquarters in Brussels.  The Duke of Wellington is going to go to Ghent to save Louis XVIII from himself.  Charlotte, the Dutchess of Richmond, wants to see the Duke of Wellington tomorrow night in Brussels.  So the Duke will go to Ghent for the day but be back in Brussels at night.  The Duke mentions that he has been fighting Napoleon for about ten years. 

The Duke returns to Brussels.  He visits with Charlotte and plays with her children.  Charlotte then introduces the Duke to a Lady Francis Webster.  Francis faints during the introduction.  The Duke says:  "She's a pretty little thing."  Arthur (the Duke of Wellington) puts in an appearance at Charlotte's ball.  Lady Webster has a husband, but that does not deter her from taking notice of Arthur.  She tells him that she knows a lot about him. 

A dispatch comes in from the Prussian Michael Blucher.  The officers are told one by one to return to their units.  The Duke of Wellington takes a careful look at a map of Europe.  He points to a place on the map and tells the men in the room that the battle will be fought here.  The women and men still remaining at the ball wave good-bye to the soldiers leaving for military duty. 

The Duke of Wellington is at a farmhouse.  He learns that Blucher and his Prussians have fallen back.  Napoleon Bonaparte might just get through to Brussels after all.  Before the battle the Duke writes a letter to Lady Francis Webster.    

June 18, 1815.  The Day of Waterloo.  Blucher and his troops arrive two hours late.  On the battlefield the Duke and his staff notice a body of enemy officers.  Among the officers is Napoleon.  The suggestion is made that they fire on and kill Napoleon.  The Duke says no:  Generals do not kill other generals.  It's just not done.  The Duke sends into battle the household troops of Louis XVIII. 

Following the battle, Blucher congratulates the Duke of Wellington:  "What a victory!"  The Duke cries as the names of some of the dead officers are read off the casualty list.  Secretary of State Castlereagh tells the Duke that he is the "hero of the century".  He mentions that somehow Marshal Ney escaped death despite the fact that he had many horses shot from under him during the battle.  The Congress of Vienna will be convened again and the Duke's work is just beginning.  Castlereagh urges that the Duke be the main influence on the Congress and that he use the whip.  The Duke is upset; he mentions that he has not seen his family but once in five years. 

The Duke of Wellington believes that the Congress must insure that France will not be torn into pieces.  And Louie must go back on the French throne.  This means an occupation with troops, but it has to be done.  Otherwise, France will be back at war as soon as it gets its strength back. 

A reporter tries to speak with the Duke and Lady Webster.  He represents the St. Jude's Chronicle and says that he just wants some personal impressions of the Battle of Waterloo.  The Duke tells the man to get out!  The Duke is going to Paris and he tells Lady Webster to return to London.   

Paris, autumn 1815.  Sure enough, the Allied kings and ministers all want parts of the lion's skin.  Lady Webster shows up in Paris, instead of London.  The Duke argues that France is not their enemy. 

The Duke of Wellington does not want the court to execute Marshal Ney.  He warns Louie's niece that he will put Louie out if Ney is executed. 

The Prussian Blucher plays the real tough guy in the discussions.  He maintains that France must be weakened.  "They must pay, pay, pay."  But again the Duke maintains his position that France will be at war once it is strong enough.  He then adjourns the Congress. 

The Duke goes to see Louie's niece.  He mentions to her that Napoleon stole many of the art masterpieces of the Allied countries.  But the French court is taking the position that they will not return the paintings.  They now belong to France.  The Duke carefully explains to the niece that the Allied nations refuse to make any concession before the art treasures are returned.  The niece (whose mother was Marie Antoinette) tells the Duke that he is no friend of France.  She then insists that Ney will be shot.  The duke again says:  "I'll throw you out of court." 

Gala Performance of the Opera. 

The niece of Louis XVIII receives only a luke-warm reception at the opera.  The public does not like the fact that their hero Ney will be executed.  Maybe she made a mistake with the Ney decision.  When the Duke of Wellington appears, there is a great deal of loud applause. 

News of a scandalous relationship between the Duke of Wellington and Lady Francis Webster is reported in the St. Jude's Chronicle.   The Duke says that Louie's niece has launched her attack on him by accusing him of a sex scandal.  He also says:  "I will have to tender my resignation."  He wants Lady Francis to go to London to see his wife, Kitty.  (Louie's niece writes a check out to pay the English reporter of the St. Jude's Chronicle for his services.)

Apsley House.  Hyde Park Gate.  The Duke of Wellington's London House.  Mr. Webster is in his study waiting to speak to the Duke.  Arthur goes in to speak to the outraged husband.  He explains that the relationship was nothing other than friendship.  Later Lady Webster expresses her love for her husband.  They kiss and all is forgiven.  Later Lord Castlereagh visits the Duke.  He says that the government will not accept his resignation.  

 The trial of Marshal Ney.  The judgment goes against Ney. 

The newspapers carry the story that the Duke has been cleared in the Lady Francis Webster scandal.  He gets a damages verdict against the St. Jude's Chronicle of 2,000 pounds.  "The Duke Wins Again."  Lady Webster's husband apologizes to the Duke for his doubting him.  The Duke asks Kitty if she wants to go to Paris with him.  But she just reminds her husband that she hates public life. 

The Duke arrives on French soil.  He is told that Ney will be shot by a firing squad tomorrow.  The Duke tells his carriage driver to drive like the devil.  Marshal Ney is placed against a wall.  He tells his executors to aim for the heart.  They fire, killing Ney.  The Duke arrives just after the execution.  He says that Madame (Louie's niece) has fired her last shot. 

Crowds gather in protest to the execution of Marshal Ney.  Talleyrand withdraws in protest from the government.  The Duke arrives at court.  He tells the niece:  "I warned you."  Later the Duke comments that Madame deliberately created the sex scandal in order to get the Duke out of her way for a while.  Now the Duke says that Louie has to dissolve the French House of Peers.  He also has to make a clean sweep of his court advisers, including Madame.  The Duke says that if the King refuses, he and his niece will meet the fates of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (namely the guillotine).  Madame cries when the King signs the Duke's document.  The Duke's last sentences to Madame are:  "I fight for peace.  You fight for vengeance.  That's why you have to go." 

1816, London, the House of Lords.  Lord Gray complains that the Duke of Wellington has not pushed for more shares for England from France.  The Duke stands up to speak in his defense.  Again he mentions that France will go to war as soon as it is strong again, unless a fair peace is chosen as the model for post-war France.  The Duke wins again.  He receives great public applause. 

Good movie.  It was nice to see a film dealing with a different person than Napoleon during the Napoleonic Age.  And certainly one of the major players was the English Duke of Wellington, the winner at the Battle of Waterloo.  I thought the movie would focus on his defeat of Napoleon.  But no, it deals more with the Duke's role in trying to establish a peaceful Europe after the complete defeat of Napoleon and his imprisonment on St. Helena.  Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is as a man of peace rather than one of the greats to stop Napoleon.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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