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Anton Walbrook

A Life of Masks and Mirrors


James Downs

Viennese-born actor Adolf Wohlbrück enjoyed huge success on both stage and screen in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, becoming one of the first truly international stars. After leaving Nazi Germany for Hollywood in 1936, he changed his name to Anton Walbrook and then settled in Britain, where he won filmgoers’ hearts with his portrayal of Prince Albert in two lavish biopics of Queen Victoria. Further film success followed with Dangerous Moonlight and Gaslight, several collaborations with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – including his striking performance as Lermontov in The Red Shoes – and later work with Max Ophuls and Otto Preminger.

Despite great popularity and a prolifi c career of some forty films, alongside theatre, radio and television work, Walbrook was an intensely private individual who kept much of his personal life hidden from view. His reticence created an aura of mystery and «otherness» about him, which coloured both his acting performances and the way he was perceived by the public – an image that was reinforced in Britain by his continental background.

Remarkably, this is the first full-length biography of Walbrook, drawing on over a decade of extensive archival research to document his life and acting career.

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Chapter 6 ‘How can one live happily in a country that’s so difficult to get to?’ The Exile Arrives in England, 1937–1938


CHAPTER 6‘How can one live happily in a country that’s sodifficult to get to?’The Exile Arrives in England, 1937–1938*

On 3 December 1936, while Walbrook was filming Michael Strogoff in Hollywood, the following notification appeared in the British press:

The Lord Chamberlain is authorised to announce that, by permission of His Majesty the King, plays dealing with the life of Queen Victoria can now be considered for production after the 20th June 1937, subject to the usual regulations for the licensing of stage plays. This date has been scheduled as being the centenary of Queen Victoria’s appointment to the throne.1

The initiative for this seems to have come from Victoria and Albert’s third son, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught (1850–1942), who spoke to the Lord Chamberlain about the ‘inevitable necessity for lifting the ban on plays dealing with the life of Queen Victoria.’ Although this ban was a matter of protocol rather than law, as Licenser of Plays the Lord Chamberlain used his power to veto any public representations of the late Queen.2 Connaught was ‘naturally anxious that the impersonation of Queen Victoria should be by a British actress and not by a foreign one.’3 ←135 | 136→According to Herbert Wilcox, however, the original impetus came from Wallis Simpson, who had seen Laurence Housman’s play Victoria Regina in New York and asked Edward VIII why there was no film about his great-grandmother.4 Within twenty-four hours of the Lord Chamberlain’s...

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