…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
Cavalcade, based upon the play by Noel Coward, was a popular favorite at the 1932-33 Academy Awards, securing 3 awards for Best Art Direction, Best Director (Frank Lloyd), and finally, the Best Picture of the Year (or ‘Outstanding Production’, as it was then named). In its time, it was truly considered a film of epic proportions, running a (whopping) 1 hour and 50 minutes long (long for films of that time), and covering 2 wars and several monumental events in British history. As years have passed, it has come to be termed by many as one of the ‘weakest’ films bestowed with the Best Picture honor. Stage actress Diana Wynyard became the first British actress to be nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress that year, coming from an early career solidly based on the stage.
At the heart of Cavalcade are two families of London: the upper-crust Marryot and the lower-class Bridges families. The story opens on New Year’s Eve of 1899, ushering in the new century, and then continues its sweep up through New Year’s Eve of 1932. We see both families endure the Boer Wars, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, and the dawning of the Jazz Age – with all the inevitable family losses and loves. The parallel telling of their stories, and how their two houses intertwine (the Bridges are servants of the Marryots early in the film, then branch off to own/run a pub, but their children remain attached) sheds a more personal and revealing light upon the historical events that simply reading about them in history books perhaps cannot capture. I especially liked the final scene where the now-aged Robert Marryot (Clive Brook) and his wife Jane (Wynyard) toast the New Year in their main living room, the ‘home base’ for much of the movie, musing about how many of the monumental events and significant news of their lives occurred to them in that very room. It is a touching, poignant moment shared by the two of them, and one of my favorite in the film.
Wynyard plays the matriarchal role very well, with a sort of detached coolness at first that becomes warmer as the film progresses and she endures more and more loss. It is as if the delicate strings that tie her to her family – and specifically her children – are gradually pulling apart, and she is unable to control casualties life, love, and war will befall them. The best she can do is love them and hold them close to her heart always. After Cavalcade, Wynyard would star in only about 20 more films before her death in 1964. Her primary love was for the stage. The winner of the 1932-33 Best Actress Oscar was Katharine Hepburn for Morning Glory – the first of her 4 (record-setting) Oscar wins.