The Sword and the Rose (1953)

After Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, Disney decided to continue their love affair with the traditional stories of Britain. Using the same lead actor (Richard Todd), they made an adaptation of the novel When Knighthood Was in Flower about the real-life love affair between Mary Tudor (sister of King Henry VIII) and Charles Brandon. Sadly, it actually suffers for not being quite as insane as Robin Hood and His Merrie Men.

Don’t get us wrong though. This movie has its share of special moments, too.

The Plot:

Charles Brandon – like Robin Hood but sleazier.

Charles Brandon is a commoner who gains favour in the court of Henry VIII in a wrestling match where he defeats the Duke of Buckingham.


Brandon becomes Captain of the Guard and starts to get the attention of the King’s younger sister, Mary. Mary is to be married off to the King of France, but she would rather flirt with Brandon and dance with him and have him instantaneously write poetry for her, etc, etc. Meanwhile Buckingham wants her for himself. There’s flirting, a duck hunt and a falcon.

Falcons are awesome.

Brandon doesn’t think he can be with her due to their different status levels, so he goes to Bristol to get on a ship headed for the new world.
Mary follows him there and disguises herself as a page – because putting on some tights and tucking your hair into your cap should be enough to convince any sailor you’re a man.

Clearly a dude.

Well, it turns out the sailors are just drunk enough to buy it. Mary’s level of commitment not being sufficient to just get her hair cut to actually look like a man, her plan comes undone when the sailors demand she throw her hat overboard as part of a departure custom. So the whole thing unravels and Charles is thrown into the Tower of London, convicted of treason and set to be executed, all because she was more attached to her hair than to Charles.

To save him from execution, Mary agrees to marry King Louis of France. Buckingham suggests that she be allowed to choose a second husband, as Louis is getting old and it might make her more committed to seeing her marriage with him through if she knows she can be with whoever she wants next. King Henry (who is supposed to be 23 at the time this story took place) agrees to this plan.

23 year old King Henry VIII.

So Brandon is kept in jail, with the intention that he should stay there until Mary proves a willing wife. Buckingham is in charge of the Tower of London and doesn’t inform Brandon of the deal, but instead tells him he’ll help him escape.

You get the point we’re trying to make here.

So Brandon is apparently stabbed and thrown into the Thames.
Meanwhile in France, Mary is married to a sleazy version of the Emperor from Star Wars.

Yes! Goood!

The Emperor’s doctor is worried about his health, so Mary decides she want’s to put him into an early grave. She tries giving him too much to drink and making him ride too fast on a horse, but in the end this happened:

Mary quickly attempts to find out what happened to Charles and learns he was killed trying to escape. Mary is sad and worried that she’ll end up with Darth Frank, the Emperor’s successor in sleazeballdom.

Why are all of the men so sleazy in this movie?

Buckingham comes to the rescue and demands she be allowed to leave. On their journey back he tries to convince her that she should marry him. Upon rejection, Buckingham makes some jab about his being a Plantagenet and that she, as a Tudor is the “brat of a welsh farmer” (trust us this explains a lot about why Buckingham is a dick). So he’s being all up in her face like the dick he is when Charles comes in, having pulled something of an Edmond Dantès.

Just like Bambi.

They fight, Charles stabs Buckingham in the arm and leaves him on the beach escaping with Mary to England where they get married and he becomes Duke of Suffolk for helping the King cheat the French out of a lot of money. Upon sending her away the movie takes a disturbing turn.

King Henry VIII (leaving the room): “And Charles! Beat her thrice a day! Hahahahaha.”

Mary (clearly embarrassed by the way Charles took over the dealings with the French): “Now Charles, how dare you take me to task in front of the whole court!”

Charles: “I love you!” (as if to say “Silly woman”)


Yes, with that threat of violence from her brother the king, and condescending attitude from the hero, our movie ends.

Interesting stuff:

Sixteenth-Century Night Fever
The centerpiece of the early part of the film is a ball that Mary is throwing at which Brandon and Mary cause an upset by doing some provocative new dance.

This is apparently what most commentators want to talk about, saying that it more closely resembles dance halls of 1953, than royal balls of 1503.
Could it be that they just didn’t do very good research?

Douglas Brode even goes so far as to imply that Disney actually foreshadowed the rebelliousness of Rock and Roll, still yet to become wildly popular for a couple of years. Typical of Brode, he overstates Disney’s foresight, and neglects the fact that that Rhythm and Blues, Swing, and even Ragtime were all considered to be rebellious new developments that were going to destroy our moral fiber with their lewd dancing and loud music.

Brandon: a less appealing 1950’s version of Marty McFly
It seems that what Disney are trying to do here is make Brandon appear to be as much like a modern American, thrown into King Henry’s court, as possible.

Unlike the historic Brandon, this Brandon dreams of the New World. The historic Brandon was a childhood friend of Henry VIII and a member of the royal court before this story took place. The Brandon of this film is a commoner who challenges, with Mary, the role of titles by pursuing a relationship with her. Brandon is very much depicted as a proto-American.

Brandon, much like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, is a modern American thrown into a more conservative world, and has engaged the audience because he more closely reflects their values than the people that surround him.

However, much like Jasmine’s protests against the restrictions of royalty in Aladdin, Charles and Mary’s objections to royalty end when Charles is made a Duke – reflecting that despite a lot of talk about the wrongness of class and aristocracy, Disney really wanted viewers to be okay with it in the end.

With all this said, Back to the Future is an awesome movie. The Sword and the Rose is not so much.

Potent Ponderables:

  • What did Henry VIII do to look so old and fat as such a young age?
  • Let’s forget all of the crappy stuff Henry VIII did while he was King.
  • Can Richard Todd top his previous performances in bizarre and sleazy roles when he returns to star in Disney’s 1954 film, Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue?


Rating:  3/17
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs down.

Rating:  3/24
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs down.

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