The Prime Minister (1941)





Director:     Thorold Dickinson.

Starring:     John Gielgud (Benjamin Disraeli),  Diana Wynyard (Mary Disraeli),  Will Fyffe (The Agitator),  Owen Nares (Lord Derby),  Fay Compton (Queen Victoria),  Pamela Standish (Princess Victoria),  Stephen Murray (Mr. W.E. Gladstone),  Frederick Leister (Lord Melbourne),  Nicholas Hannen (Sir Robert Peel),  Anthony Ireland (Count D'Orsay),  Irene Browne (Lady Londonderry).

story of rise of Benjamin Disraeli who came to be the Prime Minister in 1868 and then from 1874-1880


Spoiler Warning:

1837. London.  Capital of the British Empire basking in the splendors of its wealth and tradition.  Few realize that the nation is entering a new era of industrialism and democracy. But among the few is a foppish young novelist who has caught the fancy of the fashionable world.

The Marguess and Marchiones of Londonderry requests the presence of Benjamin Disraeli's attendance at a Garden Party, June the twentieth, 1837.

Disraeli is riding a sort of bicycle toward the Garden Party and he just misses being hit by horses and a carriage, but he slams into a brick wall breaking his bike.  He says he was on his way to the Garden Party when the accident occurred.  The woman in the carriage says she's going to the Garden Party herself and would be glad to give him a ride in her carriage.

Disraeli sees that she is reading one of his books.  He asks her what she thinks of the book and the author?  She says Disraeli is not really an author.  No, he would be much better in politics.  That's where his heart really is.  He could get himself into Parliament and accomplish some marvelous things. 

Disraeli says it's not easy getting into Parliament, but the lady says it's not really so hard.  The hostess of the party, Lady Londonderry, will introduce Disraeli to the important people.  In fact, the woman says that her family controls a seat in Parliament.  She is a widow now. 

When they get to the Garden Party, Disraeli asks her name.  Mary Anne Lewis, the widow of Wyndham Lewis.  Now she ask him his name.  Benjamin Disraeli.  Mary is upset and says:  "Oh, how perfectly horrid of you."  She's so upset that she tells him never to speak to her again.  She has her driver take her back home. 

At the party Lady Londonderry greets Disraeli and then introduces him to Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister, who says:  "Delighted to meet our severest critic."  Gladstone asks the Prime Minister to play croquet with them and Lady Londonderry asks if they would allow Mr. Disraeli to play instead?  Gladstone is willing, despite Disraeli's protests that he has never played the new game.  Gladstone says he will be glad to teach Disraeli.  The game is finished with a few strokes.

Lord Melbourne tells his hostess that he must really be going.  He says if anything should happen to the King, William IV, he really should be there to tell Princess Victoria, granddaughter of King George III.  Lord Melbourne now turns to Disraeli and asks him if he wants a ride back to London.  He says he's been wanting to ask Mr. Disraeli a number of things.  Disraeli is eager to go with the Prime Minister. 

Melbourne believes that Disraeli has a very good future ahead in politics.  Disraeli says no and asks why should he mess with such things?  Melbourne says he thinks Disraeli is trying to escape his conscience.  Disraeli says he met a woman who told him the same thing.  Melbourne thinks the lady to be very discerning.  What else did the lady tell Disraeli?  Disraeli tells him and Melbourne says the woman seems to know more about Disraeli than Disraeli knows.

Melbourne receives a note informing him that the King has died.  He reads the note and then gives it to Disraeli.  He says Disraeli better be quick about getting into politics, because now the leader of Britain is an 18 year old girl. 

Melbourne goes up to see Victoria along with two other gentlemen.  Melbourne tells her that her uncle the King passed away last night.  Victoria expresses concern for her uncle.  Although she is only 18, what she then says, with Disraeli within ear shot, inspires Disraeli and he now decides to go into politics. 

Disraeli goes to see Mary.  He tells her about his being inspired by the words of the new queen.  That's when he realized that Mary was right.  He can't just be an onlooker in politics.  So that's why he has come to Mary to ask her to give him a chance to take the seat in parliament that her family controls.  That is, if she forgives for him for his horrible start with her the other day.    She forgives him and will help him get the seat. 

A committee room in the aristocratic Carlton Club, Headquarters of the Conservative Party.  Mary comes to the meeting to tell the men her candidate for her local seat.  She says it's Disraeli.  The men do not seem pleased with that name.  The leader asks if Disraeli is really the type of person to even be in politics?  Mary tells them that if they don't like Disraeli, she shall contact Lord Melbourne (a Whig) to offer up Disraeli's name.  Oh, the conservative politicians don't want her to do that.  So they give in to her.

"Thus through the help of Mrs. Wyndham Lewis, Disraeli was elected to the House of Commons.  He made elaborate preparations for his maiden speech, hoping by means of it to overcome the resentment which had already arisen at his active entry into politics."

When Disraeli gets up to speak he is made fun of.  In fact, he can't be heard over all the laughing directed at him.  Mary is in the gallery and she starts crying over the spectacle.  Disraeli feels humiliated and he shouts that there will come a day when the men will hear him. 

Mary rushes over to Disraeli to tell him what happened was just a trifle, but he says he made a fool of himself.  She tells him that she still believes in him.  Disraeli says thank you, but for now he needs to be alone. 

Melbourne tells Disraeli to take a walk with him.  He tells him that he accomplished something very important.  He stood up to the men and showed courage and a command of the language.  His advice is for Disraeli to not appear to be so brilliant.  Be dull.  Quote figures and dates.  And make himself an authority on a topic that cannot be ignored.  Then they will listen to Disraeli.   The young man asks Melbourne why does he even concern himself with the likes of him?  Melbourne tells the lad that Disraeli will do great things for England. 

"Disraeli's courageous decision to remain in Parliament came at a time when the country was in a turmoil, divided against itself and crying for leadership."  There are riots in Birmingham and Chartist riots in Newcastle and elsewhere. Two houses are burned down in Birmingham and several are gutted and pillaged.  The Bishop of London asks for an inquiry into the state of disease and destitution among the laboring classes.  [Chartism was a working-class movement which existed from 1838 to 1858 taking its name from the People's Charter of 1838.  It was a national protest movement to put pressure on politicians to concede manhood suffrage.]

Hearing that Disraeli was seen out with another lady, Mary decides to accept the invitation she got from Alfred D'Orsay to attend a ball he is giving.  Disraeli is surprised to see her at the ball.  Later he asks her to dance, but she says she can't do the waltz.  Disraeli encourages her so she tries it, but she's too awkward to continue.  She gets upsets and goes outside.  Disraeli goes after her.  She tells him that she's leaving the country.  Disraeli finds that hard to believe.  She says she's taking the grand tour.  He asks her if she would delay her journey for two weeks?  At first she says no, but then she asks why should she delay her trip?  For his wedding is the answer.  Who is Disraeli marrying?  Mrs. Mary Anne Lewis.  She says no.  He keeps telling her that he loves and adores her.  She finally breaks down.  She will marry him. 

The wedding takes place. 

The carriage driver shuts the door on Mary's fingers and she winces over the pain.  She tells the driver to drive on. 

Disraeli has to make an important speech, but he is pained to give it because it means the end of Melbourne's reign as prime minister (1835 to 1841).  Nevertheless, Disraeli really lowers the boom on his mentor.  A little later, Disraeli receives a note concerning his wife.  He rushes home.  Mary has her right hand bandaged. 

In the newspaper is a passage saying:  "It is, however, a matter of some surmise in Parliamentarian circles why the gifted Mr. Benjamin Disraeli has been excluded from a seat in the new government, whilst a place had been found for Mr. Ewart Gladstone."

At first, Disraeli is very disheartened, but he makes up his mind to fight Peel and Gladstone.  [Robert Peel was prime minister from 1834 to 1835 and then from 1841 to 1846.]  He says he will establish a new party, a more youthful one, that will be a party within the Conservative Party.

"Disraeli proved to be right about Peel and Gladstone.  They broke away from their [Conservative] party and later Gladstone openly joined the Liberals, the great industrialist party of England.  Meanwhile, still unwelcome, still suspected, but never relinquishing his ideals, Disraeli plodded on year after year.  Gradually making him indispensable to his party, until at last, on the retirement of Lord Derby in 1868, he was left its undisputed leader.   By a strange chance, in the same year his old rival Gladstone, now the head of the Liberal Party, becomes Prime Minister.  For six more years Disraeli waited.  Then, in 1874 came his great opportunity." 


Prime ministers (1846-1874): 

John Russell, a Whig (1846 to 1852);

Edward Smith-Stanley, Earl of Derby, a Conservative (1852 to 1852);

George Hamilton-Gordon, a Peelite  (1852 to 1855);

Henry John Temple, a Whig (1855 to 1858);

Edward Smith-Stanley, a Conservative (1858-1859);

Henry John Temple, a Whig (1859-1865);

John Russell, a Liberal (1865-1866);

Edward Smith-Stanley, a Conservative (1866-1868);

Benjamin Disraeli, a Conservative(1868-1868);

William Ewart Gladstone, a Liberal (1868-1874).


The governing party is now changing again in 1874.  Mary calls her husband Dizzy now.  Disraeli will be trying to get a vote of no confidence in Gladstone and his Liberal party. 

Meanwhile, the doctor gives Mary only six months to a year to live. 

Disraeli  speaks up for the working class and for the British Empire.  He also denounces the attempt to get rid of the income tax.   Disraeli wins the day and Gladstone is out. 

The papers talk about the dissolution of Parliament and preparations for the elections. 

Disraeli becomes the prime minister.  Edward Smith-Stanley, Earl of Derby, says he won't serve on Disraeli's cabinet.  Disraeli is going to try and convince him that he's needed in the cabinet.  Without him, there may be a split in the party. 

Mary decides to go and talk to the Earl of Derby.  He admits to her that since Dizzy is a self-made man, he must have had a terrible obsession to get to the top of his profession.  But where will all that ambition take Dizzy?  He is afraid that Dizzy will try to do too much and thereby weaken Britain.  Mary says her husband will resign if the Earl of Derby does not join the cabinet.  He's afraid that a split in the party will harm the future of the British democracy, and, rather than risk that, Dizzy will resign.  Mary says, you see, Dizzy has his standards too. 

"And these were the standards which gave England a great program of social reform at home and raised her prestige among the nations abroad, during the memorable ministry of Benjamin Disraeli." 

"To him a Queen's much honor.  To him a people's love."

Windsor Castle.  Disraeli goes to see Queen Victoria.  She tells him that for his years of service to the nation, she presents him with the title of Earl.  He is now the Earl of Beaconsfield.  He leaves.  The Queen now pulls the curtains away and goes to talk with the Viscountess of Beaconsfield.  Mary says that after her death she is afraid that her husband will give up on politics.  So she asks the Queen to try and make sure that Dizzy doesn't do that.  The Queen says she will try. 

In the papers is the news of the illness of Viscountess of Beaconsfield. 

Dizzy is at the head of the table in the cabinet meeting.  The cabinet ministers agree with the British purchase of the Suez Canal.  But they refuse to endorse the purchase of Cyprus as a naval base for Britain.  They think that a British naval base there might seriously threaten the peace of Europe.  Disraeli thinks it's necessary because Germany, Austria and Russia have designs on Turkey and the Middle East.  His cabinet strongly disagrees with him.  Disraeli gets a note from the doctor to come at once. 

Disraeli leaves the meeting.  He goes into see his wife. She tells him that he must go on with the work.  She tells him to come close and then says that's better.  She dies. 

Disraeli now reads a letter not to be opened until after Mary's death.  "When you read this I shall have said goodbye to you for ever.  If only I could have lived on to see you do all those things you've planned to make England happy and safe.  But God willed it otherwise.  Goodbye, my dearest, kindest.  You have always been a perfect husband and friend.  Farewell, my dear, dear Dizzy.  Your own devoted, Mary Anne."

Disraeli now wants to resign from being the prime minister.  He tells the Queen that he is old and tired.  Disraeli says he has wanted to see the creation of a British Commonwealth.  The Queen says that Disraeli cannot resign now.  There is news from her daughter in Germany that the Germans will march on France come the next spring.  And Russia will drive the Turks out of Europe and attack the Balkans.  Realizing these plans, Disraeli agrees with the Queen that he can't go right now. 

The newspapers talk about the conferences between the great powers and about what is being debated there.  The papers say that Russia is still attempting to influence Germany and Austria to come in with her in some kind of military demonstrations again Turkey, but hitherto has decidedly failed."  Russian General Ignatieff will be going to London for talks.  There is an impending war. 

Disraeli speak of the great threat and wants to mobilize the nation.  The cabinet doesn't like the idea.  Disraeli reminds them that they have a treaty with Turkey and now what will he say to the Turkish ambassador about England coming to their aide? 

Disraeli says that he will mobilize Britain, but secretly in India.  The Queen agrees with Disraeli. 

The opposition finds out about the mobilization going on in India and elsewhere. But then news arrives that the Russians are marching on Constantinople.  Disraeli announces the news and then says he moves that Britain come to the aide of their Turkish allies.  And a fleet of troops ships from India is near the Suez Canal and can move right away to head to Constantinople.  Disraeli is a super star. 

Berlin.  The powers of Europe meet to decide what to do about Russia.  Disraeli says that if he doesn't get the support of the big powers that he will leave for England on the 9 p.m. train.  Bismarck thinks that Disraeli is bluffing, that the prime minister would never risk actual war.  Bismarck invites Disraeli to dinner.  He wants to ply him with liquor and food and smokes so that Disraeli forgets about his 9 o'clock train. Disraeli prepares to leave, but Bismarck tells him to stay because the Russians will do what Disraeli wants. 

Back home Disraeli is again the hero of the hour.  The Queen is very grateful for Disraeli's actions for peace.  The Queen and Disraeli go out on the balcony to the roar of approval from the people.  The Queen mentions to Disraeli if only his wife Mary Anne could have been here to see this.  Disraeli agrees. 


Queen Victoria ruled Britain for some 60 years and one of her favorite prime ministers was Benjamin Disraeli.  The movie show the rise of Disraeli from a popular novelist to a great Prime Minister.  At first Disraeli disdained politics and politicians, but a smart woman fan of his writing says his writing prove to her that Disraeli really wants to get into politics, but is denying that part of himself and making him feel unsure of himself.  She urges him to get into politics and continually buoys his spirits the the trials and tribulations of British politics.  Disraeli finally asks the woman to marry him and she gladly does so.  Through most of his long career his wife always kept him going with her advice and encouragement.  Disraeli was very grateful to her and felt her responsible for his political successes.  And another woman helped Disraeli:  Queen Victoria, who Mrs. Disraeli asked to keep after her husband after her passing.  Both the Queen and Disraeli would agree to take the heat if their common plans fell through in disaster, but they usually prevailed.  The film is a good look at Victorian politics in Britain.  John Gielgud (as Benjamin Disraeli) was very good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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