Follow TV Tropes


Film / Fire Over England

Go To
"My people, I am come to live or die amongst you all; to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and valour of a king, and of a king of England, too! Not Spain nor any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm. Pluck up your hearts! By your peace in camp, and by your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory!"
Queen Elizabeth I (Dame Flora Robson)

Fire Over England is a 1937 British Swashbuckler film produced by Alexander Korda's London Films, directed by William K. Howard, and starring Laurence Olivier, Flora Robson, Leslie Banks, Vivien Leigh, Tamara Desni, Robert Newton, and Raymond Massey, and nominally based on a novel by Historical Fiction author A.E.W. Mason; the score is by noted English composer Richard Addinsell of "Warsaw Concerto" fame. Produced at a time when the Jewish Korda was desperately trying to rouse Britain for the coming fight with Nazi Germany — a not entirely popular position in those war-weary times — Fire Over England used the "Spanish Black Legend" and Elizabeth I's glorious opposition to the invading Armada to reflect the need for a vigorous defence of England's liberties.

The film begins with a title-scroll stating that Spain's King Philip II (Massey), who rules "by fear and force," is opposed only by one freedom loving little island led by a woman — Elizabeth the Queen (Robson). Michael Ingolby (Olivier), fighting with his Privateer father Richard against the Spanish, is allowed to escape when their ship is seized by the Spanish captain Don Miguel, his father's friend, though Sir Richard Ingolby is arrested by The Spanish Inquisition. Michael makes his way to Don Miguel's house, where he is nursed to health by Don Miguel's daughter, Elena (Desni) — who (though she is to be married) rapidly falls in love with him, though he is in love with Cynthia (Leigh), granddaughter of Lord Burleigh (Morton Selten). However, when Michael learns that his father has been executed, he turns on them and for England. There, Queen Elizabeth is playing diplomatic cat-and-mouse with the Spanish, but is torn between the cautious policy of Burleigh and the overtly aggressive one of the Earl of Leicester (Banks), who fears for her safety, as some of her own courtiers are plotting against her — among them, Mr. Hillary Vane (a young James Mason), drowned when Leicester attempts to arrest him. Elizabeth, Burleigh, and Leicester convince Michael, over Cynthia's objections, to return to Spain in place of Vane to learn the details of the plot.

Reportedly, this film was responsible for Vivien Leigh being cast as Scarlett O'Hara.

Tropes employed in Fire Over England:

  • Artistic License – History:
    • The film depicts relations between Spain and England as coming to their breaking point in 1588. In real life, while it's true that the war had not been officially declared, the two sides had been campaigning against each other since 1585, when English troops arrived to the Netherlands as reinforcements against the Spanish Empire. Similarly, the attempt on Elizabeth's life actually happened more than a decade earlier, and it was in fact one of the factors leading to the English help to the Dutch.
    • The defeat of the Spanish Armada is portrayed as the work of the English, who send fire ships against the massed Hispanic ships by night and destroy them. In real life, while the English navy did win an initial scuffle with fire ships in Gravelines, the losses were not critical for a fleet that size. In fact, and contrary to popular belief, most of the Spanish Armada managed to return to Spain, with lost ships amounting to 35 out of roughly 150.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Over the image of the sinking Armada, Elizabeth quotes an historical sermon by an English bishop, based on Exodus XV, 10: "Thou didst blow with Thy winds, and they were scattered." She later ends the film by reciting the General Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Broken Aesop: What is meant as an in-universe example by Count Pedro:
    Count Pedro: You see, Elena, the whole trouble comes from treating your enemies like human beings. Don't you see, my dear, that if you do that, they cease to be enemies? Think what that leads to. It's the end of patriotism — it's the end of war — it's the end of — of everything.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: As Don Pedro assures Michael, "You English fool — you'll be persuaded until you tell everything. We understand persuasion."
  • Les Collaborateurs: The English courtiers plotting against Elizabeth (for unstated reasons, interestingly).
  • Dark Reprise: Of Michael's tune, "The Spanish Lady's Love," which he uses to entreat Elena not to reveal his identity.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Elizabeth, particularly at Michael's expense.
      Michael: Your Grace has made a fool of me.
      Elizabeth: Oh, blame Nature, lad, not me.
    • King Philip also gets off a couple of nice cold ones, as when Michael has "clumsily" spilt ink all over his dispatches to England:
      Philip: That is the sand,note  and that the ink.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Interestingly, Michael has to do this to Elena after she has fallen in love with him. After he has denounced her as a "Spanish devil" and returned to England, she has married another man and is fully aware that Michael is in Spain as a spy; he must convince her not to give him up.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Spanish in this film clearly are stand-ins for the Nazis. This was neither the first nor the last time it was done in pop culture, but in this case was deliberate.
  • Double Entendre: The part when Elizabeth, finding Cynthia kissing Michael, exclaims, "Who gave the wench leave to mount my throne?"
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Both Elena and Cynthia are pale-skinned brunettes, and given their respective circumstances, they both look more eerie than anything else.
  • The Empire: Spain is depicted as being this, "supreme in the New World, powerful in the Old," and opposed by practically no-one but the English.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: As a sort of spear version of an Ice Queen, King Philip is always cold, both figuratively and, as he himself says, literally.
  • Evil Overlord: King Philip lurks intimidatingly in his palace while plotting against England with his hordes upon hordes of warriors in the Spanish Armada.
  • False Reassurance: When Michael, mistaken for Sir Hilary Vane (a pro-Spanish spy) is asked by his Spanish hosts to toast the success of the Armada, and replies, "To the salvation of England."
  • Flynning: Michael engages in a little light sword-play in the sea-fight at the beginning of the film and while escaping from the Escurial.
  • The Ghost: Sir Francis Drake, who is mentioned again and again in this film, but never actually appears.
  • Grande Dame: Elena's dueña, who is scandalized by the girl's "mannerless" English-style behaviour.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: As when the Spanish ambassador, who otherwise speaks Lyceum English, calls Drake, El Draco. note 
  • Heel–Face Turn: When Elizabeth confronts them, alone and unarmed, all the English conspirators sink down on their knees and shout, "God save the Queen!"
  • The Heretic: What Elena at first calls Michael, and what Sir Richard is presumably burnt for being.
  • The High Queen: Elizabeth. Always with a calm demeanor and regal bearing, even in the face of a conspiracy, doesn't look down on nobody at all, unless you're plotting to kill her (after all, it doesn't get any better than Elizabeth I), but the film also shows her to be riddled with fears for her country's and her own future, regrets for her lost beauty, jealousy of Cynthia's youth, beauty, and relationship with Michael, and guilt for her execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • Historical Domain Character: King Philip II; Queen Elizabeth I; William Cecil, Lord Burleigh; Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
  • Hot-Blooded: Michael starts out the film without a very great command of his emotions, but becomes more cool and calculating under the tutelage of Queen Elizabeth herself.
  • Hypocrite: The Spanish ambassador, who congratulates Elizabeth in insulting terms for surviving an assassination attempt — while plotting to assassinate her.
  • I Am the Noun:
    Elizabeth: For I am England!
    Ambassador: And I am the Voice of Spain.
  • Knighting: By Elizabeth — "Rise up, rise up, Sir Michael Ingolby."
  • Knight Templar: King Philip, who cannot rest until he has subjugated heretical England.
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: When Michael is asked to return to Spain as a spy, Cynthia begs him instead to retire peacefully to the country with her instead.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Michael for Cynthia; Cynthia for Michael; Elena for Michael; Elizabeth for Michael; Elizabeth for Leicester; Leicester for Elizabeth: Pedro for Elena (possibly Elena for Pedro, though she doesn't show much sign of it).
  • Manly Tears: Perhaps averted; Michael's reaction to the news of his father's death is positively hysterical.
  • The Mole:
    • Hillary Vane is this at Elizabeth's court for the baddies.
    • Michael is this at King Philip's court for the goodies.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Except for Elena, all the Spaniards in this film sound as if they had just stepped off the boards of the Old Vic — and in Elena's case is because her actress was born and raised in Germany; she sounds as if she had just left the Friederichstadtpalast.
  • Oblivious to Love: Michael and Cynthia have this exchange, as they wait for the Queen to return from hunting:
    Michael: Did she read my application to re-join the fleet?
    [Cynthia nods]
    Michael: Will she grant it, do you think?
    [Cynthia shakes her head]
    Michael: Why not?
    Cynthia: Because she likes you.
    Michael: Did you speak for me?
    Cynthia: I didn't dare; she is still at odds with me.
    Michael: Why?
    Cynthia: Because she likes you. [He looks puzzled; she glances at him disgustedly]
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Heard when the Inquisition come to arrest Sir Richard Ingolby and during his execution, and again in the Escurial.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: As worn by Elizabeth; lampshaded by Hillary Vane: "I've heard the Queen owns three thousand dresses."
  • Pirate: What the Spanish consider Drake (and by implication, Ingolby).
  • Privateer: Sir Richard Ingolby; Drake, from the English point of view.
  • Purple Prose: For example: "Do not deceive yourself. I know you love me and would risk your life for me — but these men risk more than their mere lives: once they are caught, I cannot help them and they know it; once they are caught it is death by fire. But that does not stop them from dying for me. They still cry, 'Save the Queen.'"
  • Rousing Speech: Queen Elizabeth's speech at Tilbury, which is a direct quote from history, and which (should you happen to be English or of English ancestry) may make you want to go out and fight a Spaniard. Just about the most Rousing Speech ever made by an English leader until Winston Churchill started giving speeches like this every week in 1940.
  • She Is the King: As referenced in the Queen's Tilbury speech. "I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too."
  • Title Drop: "But one day, Your Grace, the pistol will be loaded — and as the shot echoes across the sea to Spain, the Armada will sail — and then there will be Fire over England! Flames! Torment!"
  • Villainous Demotivator: King Philip, of course:
    Philip: Employ rigorous means. Only through fear can the people be brought to do their duty ... and not always then.
  • War Was Beginning: Fire Over England begins with a remarkably pompous and tendentious one:
    In 1587 Spain Powerful in the Old World Master in the New — Its King Philip Rules By Force and Fear — But Spanish Tyranny is Challenged by the Free People of a Little Island — England...
  • We Used to Be Friends: Sir Richard Ingolby attacks the galleon of his former friend, Don Miguel de Casanz — when they encounter each other in battle, Ingloby tells his son, "We were friends once." "Enemies now!," shrieks Michael, and attacks.