Movies We Like
Beau (né George) Brummell, whilst little known today, was a major force in 19th century politics and fashion. Born when courtly circles were filled the ostentatiously foppish Macaronis, Brummell revolutionized English grooming by not wearing a wig, brushing his teeth daily, and developing an understated but well-tailored look known which became known as Dandyism.
In the film, John Barrymore (Drew’s grandpa aka “The Great Profile”) plays Brummel (here, with one “l” for some reason.) He pines for Lady Margery, played by 17-year-old Mary Astor (who was having an affair with the notorious 42-year-old ladies’ man and whoremonger behind the scenes). Lady Margery’s ambitious mother has other ideas, however, and rejects the low-born Beau Brummel in favor of the blue-blooded Lord Alvanley, Colonel of the Tenth Hussars.
The rakish Brummel, driven by love and his own considerable ambition, responds to this snub by employing his considerable wit and revolutionary sartorial sensibility to climb to the highest ranks of court society; charming adoring throngs of women along the way, but remaining devoted in his heart to his beloved Lady. Ultimately he becomes wingman for the portly Prince of Wales. But, like the narrative of a Pulp song, the real point proves to be revenge on the upper classes and a cutting remark leaves Brummel to fend for himself.
Barrymore throws everything he has into his performance which allows him to transform from debonair gentleman to a raddled old broken by disgrace, who has fled to France to avoid his considerable debts and enemies. There he dies in an insane asylum, having lost his mind; a victim of both syphilis and heartbreak- still haunted by images of a young Lady Alvanley.
A minor caveat- whilst the film is available in a restored version (as seen on TCM) this DVD, I’ve heard, is a less than pristine VHS-transfer from the notoriously slipshod Televista.