Release Date: April 15, 1933
Oscar Ceremony: March 16, 1934
Director: Frank Lloyd
Starring: Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook, Una O’Connor & Herbert Mundin
Cavalcade is an interesting film. Similarly to Cimarron, it spans several decades, but unlike Cimarron, the focus seems to be more on the history of a nation than on the history of an overrated heroic figure. I have to admit that I don’t have very much to say about this movie. It wasn’t really bad, but it wasn’t good either. It was just rather bland and somewhat pointless.
The film opens with the upper-class Marryot family celebrating New Year’s Eve 1899 in their grand London home. Jane and Robert Marryot have a tradition to ring in the new year with a toast, and this year, they let their two young boys Joey and Edward stay up as well. How exciting. I was probably about the younger boy’s age when Y2K came about, except I was horribly sick that day. Good times. Anyways, in parallel, viewers also follow the lives of the Marryot family’s servants: the Bridges. Alfred is the butler, Ellen is the maid, and together they have a baby daughter named Fanny. They live in the Marryot family’s basement.
The first major event in the movie is the the Boer War. Both family patriarchs are sent off to serve in the name of their Queen. Oddly enough, no one seems too concerned except for Jane. However, her pain doesn’t last very long, since the film quickly jumps to the end of the war and the return of both men. No one we know has died, and Alfred somehow managed to buy a pub off another soldier so his family can finally move out of the Marryot home and start a real life.
The movie continues with the same pattern – everything seems somewhat normal, then some big historic event happens, one of the families experiences some sort of major happening or tragedy, the audience gets a millisecond to react, and then we move on to the next big historic event. Most of the story never actually goes anywhere. It’s almost like Cavalcade was made by a high school history student trying to cram every single British historical moment from 1899 to 1933 into a 1 hour and 50 minutes representation just to show his teacher that he studied.
I’ll give you an example. It might be a spoiler, so if you really think you’ll want to watch this movie someday stop here.
Eventually, the eldest Marryot son gets married to his childhood friend Edith and they spend their honeymoon out at sea. The scene starts with the caption “April 1912” and a beautiful shot of the ship they are on. The young couple discusses the concept of death. Edith says she wouldn’t mind dying. That’s what we all hope to hear from our significant other on our honeymoon. When they finally decide to go back to their cabin, the camera lingers behind and this comes up:
Ah, the irony. This isn’t really a shocker because if you read the movie’s plot summary on IMDb or Wikipedia, it immediately tells you all the major events the movie goes through, and the sinking of the Titanic is one of them. Also, if 1912 and a shot of the ship wasn’t enough for you to figure it out I don’t know what is. Either way, this is exciting because it feels like there’s finally something more substantial that’s going to be expanded in greater depth. Unfortunately, no such thing happens. The scene ends there and then we jump to the Marryot family in 1914, right before WW1 breaks out. Edward isn’t with them, so we assume he died? It’s not really clear because no one addresses it or seems to be mourning. That’s it? This is what I mean when I say the story never really goes anywhere.
Even the movie’s tone is confusing. Sometimes it’s light, other times it’s sombre, and other times it’s just so bizarrely melodramatic that you have no clue how to interpret it. Everything is a bit all over the place, but I guess that’s what happens when you have such great ambitions. It’s not easy to seamlessly cover 33 rich years in such a short amount of time. Too bad Netflix wasn’t a thing back then because this could have worked well as a binge-worthy show.
After a multitude of big events and montages, the viewers find themselves accompanying Jane and Robert Marryot in their London home on New Year’s Eve, back to where we started, except now it’s the year 1933. They look back on their lives and think about the future. In a way, this is Cavalcade‘s way of showing us that no matter what we go through, some things never change and life goes on. On a bigger note, no matter what England has to endure, it shall prevail.