Young Bess (1953)



Director:  George Sidney.

Cast:  Jean Simmons (Young Bess, Queen Elizabeth I), Stewart Granger (Thomas Seymour), Deborah Kerr (Catherine Parr), Charles Laughton (King Henry VIII), Kay Walsh (Mrs. Ashley), Guy Rolfe (Ned Seymour), Kathleen Byron (Ann Seymour), Cecil Kellaway (Mr. Parry), Rex Thompson (Prince Edward/King Edward VI), Robert Arthur (Barnaby), Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Mums), Norma Varden (Lady Tyrwhitt), Alan Napier (Robert Tyrwhitt), Noreen Corcoran (Bess as a child), Ivan Triesault (Danish Envoy).

A good movie, but instead of Bette Davis we get Jean Simmons as Queen Elizabeth I of England and Charles Laughton once again as Henry VIII.


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


"Her father, Henry VIII, called her Young Bess.  Her mother, Ann Boleyn, ended on the block.  Born at a time when heads were falling around her like cabbage-stalks, to grow up at all was an achievement, to grow up to greatness was a miracle."

Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, England.  November 16. 1558.  The scene opens with pictures of a small mansion (when in fact the real mansion is huge).  [Hertfordshire is located immediately to the north of Greater London and is part of the  London commuter belt. To the east  is Essex, to the west is Buckinghamshire and to the north are Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.]

Mrs. Ashley, the governess,  rushes into Mr. Parry's room.  She grabs the papers that Perry was working on, rips them up and throws them into the fire.  Mrs. Ashley says the papers are no longer necessary.  Lady Elizabeth received a message from London.  Her half-sister Queen Mary is very, very ill.  The two are ecstatic over the news.  Mrs. Ashley says at the age of 25 Elizabeth will be queen before the dawn breaks.  They have a toast to Young Bess and Queen Elizabeth.  They call her father, King Henry VIII, a monster. 

Flashback.  Henry VIII picks up his daughter Young Bess.   He calls her the future Queen Elizabeth.  Her mother Anne Boleyn laughs heartily over some remarks by Henry.  But in May of 1536, Anne has her head loped off with an axe.  Three of her lovers were also executed.  Mrs. Ashley tells the baby Elizabeth that her father can't stand the sight of her anymore.  They were chased out of the court and went back to Hatfield.  With the birth of his son Edward, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and not likely to become Queen. 

And now the governess and Elizabeth are leaving Hatfield.  Mrs. Ashley tells young Bess that she must make sure that her new step-mother likes her.  She asks the child if she is happy that she is finally back in her father's graces?  Elizabeth just spits in disgust. 

Mrs. Ashley tells  Bess that her step-mother is German.  Henry gets rid of her and Bess now comes from Hatfield to greet her fourth mother.  [The six wives of Henry VIII were Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, 
Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr.]  She first meets her father again and perhaps is too scared to say anything to him.  Henry says to her:  "Anne Boleyn's brat, I'll put you in the Tower if you don't talk."  He introduces Catherine Howard to Bess, while saying he really likes this wife.  And yet in 1542 he has this wife's head chopped off.  And she was only 21 years of age.

Lord Thomas Seymour, the admiral, has come to take Bess back to London at the command of her father.  Bess locks herself in her room and says she is not going to court.  She has had too many step-mothers already.  Thomas says he knew her mother and would love to have at least a glimpse of her.  Bess lets him into her room to have his glimpse.  Thomas comes in.  He is very sympathetic of her plight and admits she had a bad childhood.  And yet he is sure that she will mature into a woman as beautiful as her mother and will turn the heads of all the men at court.  She starts to warm up toward Thomas.

Thomas says he must go and tell the king that his mission ended in failure.  He says goodbye and leaves the room.  Bess thinks for half a minute or so and chases after Thomas, calling out for him to wait.  And off they go to London.

In London Thomas shows Bess her new room.  He also tells her that this time she will be happy because Katherine Parr is such a good woman.  At this time Katherine comes into the room to introduce herself.  The Queen is very warm toward Bess and says that Prince of Wales Edward needs a big sister.

Edward and Bess really hit it off.  One day he comes into her bedroom with a model of the Admiral's flagship.  He says he likes his Uncle Tom.  Bess says she is happy here, especially with the queen.  Edward tells her bluntly:  "She won't last."  Father wants a change because Katherine contradicts him.  This upsets his sister and she tells him she doesn't believe him.  He takes her down to the king's bedroom where they both can hear the king yelling at the queen.  Edward says when the king gets rid of her, Bess will be sent back to Hatfield.  Bess slaps his face. 

The king and his family are on board ship with Admiral Seymour.  Also with them is Thomas' brother Ned Seymour.  The two brothers get into a little argument and the king remarks that he's never seen two brothers so much at odds with each other.  Then the king gets into a dispute with clergyman Cranmer.  The king doesn't want the Bible translated into English.  The queen, however, states that she is a big supporter of a translation of the Bible.  This starts Henry yelling at Katherine.  When he takes his index finger of his right hand and motions that her throat is being cut open, Bess screams.  This upsets the king who now fixes his attention on Bess rather than Katherine.  He does not like her screaming as she did.  Bess covers herself by saying that she saw a French ship.  The king is suspicious of her because the men up in the crow's nest don't see anything.  Luckily, while they are arguing, a French ship does show up on the horizon.

Henry gets mad at his daughter and says she is going back to Hatfield.  She says she will not go back to Hatfield.  This showdown is stopped when the lookout shouts the French ships are coming their way.  The call for battle stations is shouted out.   The king argues some more with Bess until His Majest suddenly starts slipping down toward the floor.

In the year 1547 the king is dying.  He says some nice things to Kate.  He tells Ned Seymour that the man can't wait for the king to die.  He calls him a "cold fish" and says that people don't like it.  He asks Thomas Seymour to watch after his son Edward.  The king warns Thomas to watch out for his treacherous brother.  He speaks with Bess now.  He says she will make a good leader.

Mrs. Ashley packs for Hatfield.  Elizabeth does not like this.  She is worried that she will never see "him" again.  Elizabeth runs over to Thomas' bedroom.  He is worried that this will cause a scandal for the both of them and asks her to leave.  She tells Thomas that they are going to send her back to Hatfield.  Thomas says he will find a safe place for her and Katherine to live and she won't have to go back to Hatfield.  Barnaby, Thomas' young page, knocks on the door and says who he is.  Thomas lets him in.  The boy is struck deaf and dumb when he sees the beautiful Elizabeth.  Thomas has to wake him out of it.  Barnaby says Ned Seymour wants to see Thomas at the council meeting immediately.  Barnaby now leaves.

Elizabeth tells Thomas that her father was lonely all his live.  Thomas agrees.  She says she would rather die than to be lonely all her life.  Thomas says she must go now.  Just before she is out the door she gives Thomas a big kiss.

On her way back to her room, Elizabeth runs into Ned's wife, the Lady Ann.  Elizabeth knows that the woman will probably tell her husband what she saw. 

When Elizabeth is back in her bedroom, she finds Edward on the bed.  He is very upset because his father has died and now he will have to be king.  Edward is frightened at this prospect.  Elizabeth comforts him with a big hug.  They are interrupted by a man looking for Edward.  He shouts out to the many others that he has found Edward.  He's with Elizabeth.  They say:  "The king is dead!  Long live the king!" 

Ned comes in to announce that the council has appointed him the Lord Protector of His Realm.  He and his wife will be the guardians of Edward.  Edward and Elizabeth both say that their father appointed Uncle Thomas to be the king's guardian.  Ned just says the council has decided differently. 

Ann Seymour accuses Elizabeth of having sex with Thomas Seymour.  Elizabeth stands up to Ann and Ann doesn't like it.  She appeals to her husband for help, but he just says she shouldn't accuse someone of doing something wrong when there is not enough evidence to back up the claim.  Ann compares Elizabeth to her mother and says she is following in Anne Boleyn's footsteps.   Elizabeth gets so angry that she throws a blue inkwell up against the wall, spreading the blue onto the white wall behind Ann. 

At dinner with Ned and Thomas, Ann starts complaining about Thomas liking his wines (like his women) young.  Thomas says, if he wanted to have a love affair, he wouldn't look into a nursery.  She shoots back that yes he would, if the child could possibly be the Queen of England one day.  Ned says Thomas should be careful.  Elizabeth was sent to be at Hatfield, but Thomas intervened and took her and the queen to Chelsea.  He says the membesr of the council will find this action a bid on the part of Thomas for power.   Thomas replies that his brother Ned is actually the council.  Neither the king nor the country want Ned to have absolute power.  And neither does Thomas. 

At Chelsea Elizabeth has a tutor named Mr. Mums.  Elizabeth only wants to speak of ships and admirals, such as Thomas Seymour.  She points a finger at Mr. Mums and says that England only has 25 ships to defend herself against attack.  Mrs. Ashley has to intervene in order to give Mr. Mums a well-needed rest.  He tells Mrs. Ashley thank you for saving him for at his advanced age he cannot hope to match Elizabeth's overwhelming enthusiasm.  Alone with Mrs. Ashley, Elizabeth declares that she will love Thomas Seymour until the day she dies. 

Mrs. Ashley says Thomas Seymour is in love with another woman.  Elizabeth absolutely denies the existence of another woman.  She demands from Mrs. Ashley the name of the woman and when the governess won't give the name, Elizabeth declares this as proof that there is no other woman.  She asks the governess to leave the room. 

At night Elizabeth can't sleep.  She sees a man riding up on a horse and Katherine goes out to meet him.  Elizabeth thinks Katherine is the other woman.  Mrs. Ashley comes in to say she is sorry she found out this way, but the two people were engaged to be married even before King Henry decided to marry her.  Elizabeth says:  "It's alright, Ashley,  Go back to bed."

At Whitehall Ann Seymour asks page Barnaby who is that person with the king?  He says it's the Princess Elizabeth.  She rushes over and calls for Edward, but it's no use.  The siblings are running fast away from the castle.  The king has a secret hiding place amid the huge stacks of cut timber.  He tells Elizabeth that they treat him as a child.  They won't even give him enough money to bribe his servants.  And he is not allowed to see Uncle Thomas.  But his uncle leaves him coins under the carpet so he does have a little money. 

She tells Edward that he should have Katherine marry Thomas immediately.  She makes Edward think that this is his wish, so he writes a letter in support of the marriage.

Katherine reads the letter in front of Thomas and Elizabeth.  She is shocked that the king wants her to marry Thomas right away.  The couple are delighted over the news.  Poor Elizabeth has to suffer in silence.  Katherine says brother Ned would never allow their marriage.  Thomas says Ned will have to allow it, if they make the letter public.  He adds that he will read it at the king's reception.  The king mentions in the letter that Elizabeth has already approved of the match.  This make Katherine and Thomas think that Elizabeth arranged this for they know she saw the king recently.  Angrily, Elizabeth denies she had any part in this and runs away. 

Katherine goes up to talk with Elizabeth.  She asks her what's wrong?  Elizabeth tells her that she will leave the day before the wedding.   Katherine thinks Elizabeth is upset about having to leave because of the marriage.  She tells Elizabeth that she will stay here with them.  Furthermore, both she and Thomas love Elizabeth and they want her to stay.  Elizabeth says she will stay. 

The wedding takes place. 

The boy king sneaks out of his bedroom and goes to check underneath the hall rug.  He picks up his coins and puts them in his pouch.  The guard pretends he is asleep. 

The king writes that his Uncle Tom has been given the ships he needed and now he has defeated the pirates.  He writes that it almost killed Uncle Ned. 

Uncle Thomas returns in triumph.  Uncle Ned and Aunt Ann don't like the warm reception he receives from the public.  They are afraid that such public adulation could put him on the nation's throne. 

Thomas goes to see Katherine.  Mrs. Ashley scolds Elizabeth for not going downstairs to greet Thomas.  Thomas runs upstairs to see Elizabeth.  She gives him a stiff, formal reception. So he gives her a nice kiss right on the lips.  And now she finally smiles. 

Elizabeth and Thomas go out for a horse ride.  Mrs. Ashley complains to Katherine that Thomas doesn't seem to realize that Elizabeth is no longer a child.  Katherine says she likes seeing the two together having fun. 

Elizabeth sets sail on Thomas' flagship.  She has studied about ships and seamanship and now can converse readily with the admiral.  She dreams of getting a hundred ships and sending them out under Admiral Thomas Seymour.  She says that Thomas will still by her side even then. 

When the two get home, Thomas speaks of Ned's plan for her to travel to Sweden and Denmark in pursuit of a husband.  Elizabeth says he wants to marry her off so she will be out of his way in his attempt to become the next King of England.  Katherine comes down and Thomas makes such a big fuss over her that it maddens Elizabeth. 

Ned talks to Thomas saying that he was surprised that Elizabeth wrote such nice letters to him about heading abroad in search for a husband.  Thomas finds that hard to believe and takes a look at the letter.  Ned says he's surprised that Elizabeth didn't tell Thomas.  So is Thomas. 

At a court dinner Thomas is also mad because Elizabeth is making such a fuss over a spokesman for the Danish Prince and laughing terribly loud at his remarks.  Edward tells Thomas that if Elizabeth doesn't take the Dane, she will have to take the German because Ned is so fond of Germany. 

And now Elizabeth gets up to dance with the Danish Prince's man.  Thomas leaves the table, but stands still looking at Elizabeth.  When the dance is over, she looks over toward Thomas, but now he is gone. 

Barnaby tells Elizabeth that Thomas wants to see her on an important matter.  He then begs her not to leave England and go to Denmark.  Thinking to show Thomas that she doesn't need him, she tells Barnaby that he may kiss her.  They kiss.  Barnaby notices that someone saw them.  Thomas Seymour?  No, the Danish Prince's man. 

Thomas takes Elizabeth home by boat.  He is mad and won't speak to her.  She starts making small talk and he says he wants to know the name of the man who she kissed tonight.  He says it was Barnaby Fitzpatrick.  Thomas tells her she must be very proud of her outrageous behavior.  Healso  tells her she is starting to act like her mother and that will result in men getting their heads heads chopped off.  She tells Thomas that he's jealous.  She laughs heartily.  She keeps it up until he slaps her across the face.  Now it's Elizabeth who is angry.  She runs up the steps, but Thomas runs after her.  He apologizes to her and then gives her an impassioned kiss. 

She says she loves Thomas and has loved him even before he married Katherine.  She says she can't stop loving Tom.  Elizabeth adds that she wanted to hurt him, because she is lonely and desperate.  "I love you, Tom, I love you."  They kiss again.  She leaves. 

On another day when Elizabeth gets back home, Katherine asks to speak with her.  She says Tom has been called to Whitehall for a couple of days.  She says when Tom returned from court dinner she knew that something had happened.  They talked through the rest of the night.  Katherine adds that she can't afford to lose him.  "I need Tom."  This may be a passing infatuation for Bess, but if it's not, she will have to go.  Elizabeth says she is sorry, but she will have to go. 

Elizabeth receives the news that Lady Katherine is dying and her husband is distraught over this.  This disturbs Elizabeth. 

Katherine asks her husband to tell her that he's not happy about her dying, so he can be free to marry Elizabeth.  Tom says it's not true.  He loves Katherine, who now asks for Bess to come to her.  Tom tells her that Bess is in Hatfield.  She tells Tom that he is not the first man who loved two women at the same time. 

It's Edward's birthday.  Elizabeth shows up to see Edward.  It's been a year of mourning for Elizabeth and she has not seen Edward since Katherine's death.  She asks Edward for a private audience after the end of his party.

Elizabeth learns from her brother that Ned wants to kill his brother Tom.   Now Edward runs out of the room so no one gets suspicious because of his absence.  Of course, Elizabeth wanted more information from him, but he' gone in a flash. 

When she gets home, she learns that both Mrs. Ashley and Mr. Parry have been taken to London for questioning.  Ned has appointed two replacements for her old couple.

At night Elizabeth becomes fearful because of  a creaking sound.  She gets up to investigate and sees Tom there.  She runs into his arms.  And they kiss. 

Elizabeth tells Tom that perhaps she will never see him again.  He only came to say goodbye.  Tom says he couldn't just leave without her God-speed.  So she tells Tom :  "God-speed."  They kiss again and then Tom leaves. 

Elizabeth meets with the council.  Ned tells her that Tom has been arrested and taken to the Tower.  She says that they wouldn't dare touch the admiral.  So Ned has her read a certain document.  She drops the piece of paper and says:  "The people will set him free."  Now he tells her that she helped Tom plot to become King of England.  Bess answers:  "You'll answer for that with your head, Lord Seymour."   Not missing a beat, he says it's her head that is in question.  He goes on with other lies, until Elizabeth says that he's lying. 

Ned wants her to confess to the council. Every word she says will be entered down on paper. Elizabeth rallies and says she'll testify. "Write that I accuse the Lord Protector of trying to convict a man for things he has never done. Write that he is plotting the basest crime of all: the murder of his brother. Write that in his abject weakness and fear in his most ignoble envy of Thomas Seymour, he would like to kill him not because I love him, but because the people of England love him. Write!  Write that the Lord Protector stands accused before this very people of England whose affection he craves and whom he plans so cruelly to betray.  If he knew the nature of the English, he would tremble knowing what's in store for him as he lifts his hand like Cain, he will be driven from the face of the earth."

Ned strikes back with some nasty comments about her mother.  For this Elizabeth strikes his face with a small whip. She ends by saying that she will have her brother write a proclamation accusing Ned and the council members of making charges against her that are lies and villainous slander. 

Thomas is in the Tower.  Barnaby comes in with information on how well Elizabeth stood up to the council questioning her day and night. 

Elizabeth and Edward hear the slow beat of the drums announcing another beheading.  They wait at the window for the execution of Thomas.  Edward starts crying and says that they are all alone now. 

Back to the present.  Mrs. Ashley comments that Elizabeth never mentions his name. But she carries Thomas within her heart.  She says Elizabeth will be Queen of England.  Poor Edward got sick and died.  Mrs. Ashley is all dressed up for the execution of Ned Seymour.  Elizabeth stands at the entrance to the room and her two loyal servants bow to her.  She doesn't say anything but goes out onto the terrace to witness Ned's execution.



Good movie, but it is historically incorrect.  It was Thomas that was envious of his brother's high position and not the other way around.  And Thomas definitely was trying to use Elizabeth and Katherine Parr to make himself the King of England.  Thomas Seymour was 40 years of age, while Elizabeth was only 14.  He is thought to have abused her sexually and personally, but don't know exactly how far Thomas went with Elizabeth.  Her governess certainly thought that Thomas was abusing Elizabeth.  Historian David Starkey writes, "He may have even sexually abused her; at the very least he abused his power."

It does not appear that Elizabeth really loved Thomas.  She was more bewildered and confused by all the attention a 40 year old man was giving her. 

Thomas was a shady dealer.  He encouraged piracy in secret and then got the fame for capturing the pirate Thomas Walton.

And, with good reason, Thomas was executed in the Tower of London.  His brother was not the plotter who wanted to see his brother dead and out of the way.  The brother actually delayed signing the death warrant, so the council had to go to Edward VI for his signature.

Jean Simmons did a great job portraying Elizabeth and Stewart Granger did well portraying the handsome Thomas Seymour. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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