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Friday, January 6, 2012

Caught on Tape: Nell Gwyn

I have always considered Nell as one of the most interesting of all of the mistresses of Charles II. She came from rags to riches and her story would be the one to lend itself more to a movie than some of his other favorites. So I went out in search of Nell. I found several films, but many of them were either bit parts or do not have movie clips. So I included a few still photographs where I could when I felt the film couldn’t be skipped over.

Sweet Nell of Old Drury (1911)

This film is an Australian silent film starring Nellie Stewart as Nell Gwyn and Augustus Neville as King Charles II. This film focused on the relationship between Nell and King Charles. The film is based on a play by the same name performed in 1900. While this film was shown in cinemas for 6 years, it is now considered a lost film and there are no copies believed to be in existence any more. I found this image, however it appears to be from possibly a performance of the play as its stars are not the same as the film.

Mistress Nell (1915)

This is another silent film this time starring Mary Pickford as Nell. Again, this was a play performed on Broadway first under the same name in 1900. Owen Moore co-stars are King Charles II (Pickford’s real life husband). An interesting note for me is that this was film in Connecticut – the state I grew up in! Again, I could not find footage of this film, but I do have and image of a theatre marquee announcing the film.

Nell Gwyn (1926)

This was the first of two movies based on the book Mistress Nell Gwynne by Joseph Shearing. This was a British romance film starring Dorothy Gish as Nell Gwyn and Randle Ayrton as Charles II. It traces the life of Nell through her relationship with Charles. Another silent film and yet another I do not have a video clip of. I have an image of Dorothy Gish as Nell – I think she is the person on the right during one of the various stage performances while Nell was an actress.

Nell Gwyn (1934)

This is the second film based on the book mentioned in the previous listing. This one however, was not a silent film. This film starred Anna Neagle as Nell (her first big success) and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Charles II. The same plot line as the 1926 version, however the USA wanted to censor aspects of the film and add a moralistic element where Charles and Nell marry. I was able to find this clip of the film, however it appears to not have sound, which is disappointing.

The Last King: Charles II: The Power and the Passion (2003)

There is really quite a jump between the 1930s and 2000s. The Last King is a British miniseries about Charles II and of course Nell is featured. Emma Pierson is Nell and Rufus Sewell is Charles II. While the focus of the film is about Charles, you really can’t explore his life without involving his many mistresses. This miniseries won BAFTA awards for Best Costume Design, Best Drama Serial, and Best Photography and Lighting. The clip below is from Episode 3 and features Nell on stage and meeting Charles II. The actress seems very “Nell” to me. I have added this to my watch list.

Stage Beauty (2004)

She was the first of her kind, He was the last of his.

The last film I have for you today is Stage Beauty. This film is not about Nell, but she has a small part in it. This film is based on the play Compleat Female Stage Beauty. This film takes place right about the time that all male plays were being phased out in favor for female actress playing the female roles. The main character, Ned, is one of those male actors who played female roles and is not in favor of this change. Nell has a small but critical role in this film – and Nell is portrayed by Zoe Trapper. This is a film I might watch. I included the trailer for the film below because the part of the film featuring Nell is not available on Youtube. The film also stars Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, and Rupert Everett.

I have not seen any of these films in their entirety. Have you? Have any of you seen any of the silent films? I read that the 1926 and 1934 films are shown occasionally at certain artsy theatres.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Fun post about a fascinating historical figure - the only one I've seen in the A&E The Last King. I have it in my dvd collection but it's been a while since I've watched it. Your post has prompted me to dust it off to watch it again soon!

  2. Joanne - I want to see The Last King. The clips I saw made it look pretty good!


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