Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)

In MGM's and director Sidney A. Franklin's beautifully-produced, prestige work was an adaptation based from Rudolf Besier's successful 1930 stage play. The film was unnecessarily remade in Cinemascopic Metrocolor as The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), awkwardly starring Jennifer Jones as the only American performer in the British cast:

  • the historical, emotional, soap-operaish heart-felt tale was set in 1845 in London, at the home of the Barrett family (at 50 Wimpole Street). The household (of three daughters and six sons) was dominated by the tyrannical, villainous and dictatorial control of the widowed and patriarchal Edward Moulton-Barrett (Charles Laughton), who believed that romantic love was sinful
  • the only child that he showed any preference for was his mostly bed-ridden, invalid eldest daughter Elizabeth Barrett (Norma Shearer), nicknamed "Ba," who could only manage sitting in a chaise lounge during the day. The nearly 40 year-old daughter occupied her time by reading and enjoying her pet cocker spaniel Flush
  • she also corresponded with Victorian literary poet Robert Browning (Fredric March), who came to her personally after one of her letters to pay a visit. The charming and handsome poet arrived and they happily discussed poetry, the arts, philosophy of life, and other engaging subjects: (Browning: "We've known each other a mere half hour, and yet we've talked intimately of art and life and death and love")
Browning's First Visit to See Elizabeth

Elizabeth Struggling to Stand and Get to the Window

Elizabeth At the Window
  • although overwhelmed by Browning's immediate ardent love for her, Elizabeth found herself also falling in love with Browning, and with newly-found vitality, health and happiness, was even able to struggle to the window to watch his departure
  • her jealous, stern and over-protective father vigilantly observed the couple, and although he reluctantly allowed further visits, he strictly forbade Elizabeth from becoming romantically involved. As Elizabeth's romantic interest in Browning grew, so did her physical strength and ability to walk; she divulged her love: "I'd rather die with you beside me than live a hundred lives without you"
  • Mr. Barrett also possessively ruled over the romantic couplings of his other children, mostly his youngest daughter Henrietta (Maureen O'Sullivan) and her military beau Captain Surtees Cook (Ralph Forbes), and brashly disallowed their illicit relationship (he called it a "filthiness"). He caught her in his company, viciously seized her wrists, forced her to confess to having sex with Cook, and harshly made her swear on a Bible that if she ever saw him again, he would disown her

Barrett Violently Seizing Henrietta's Wrists to Control Her

Viciously Forcing Henrietta to Swear on a Bible to Never See Her Beau Again
  • Barrett's unreasonable stranglehold grew even tighter after he dismissed Elizabeth's doctor-recommended therapeutic retreat to the warmer climate of Italy, and threatened to have the family move to the countryside of Surrey to further curtail Browning's visits
  • to protest her devoted father's crushing control ("You're like a shadow over our lives"), Elizabeth sent word to Browning that she would meet him and runaway together. He responded that he wanted to marry her that very evening
  • to dissuade his disobedient eldest daughter after she denounced him, the abusive and obsessed Barrett claimed that only Elizabeth, out of all of his children, was conceived in love (not hateful rape), and insinuated that he had more than a fatherly love for her; he confessed that he wanted her all for himself: ("Nothing and no one can come between us, my child, my darling! You want me to be happy. The only happiness I shall ever know is all yours to give or take. You must look up to me and depend on me and lean on me. You must share your thoughts with me, your hopes, your fears, your prayers..."). [Note: The morals code of the 1930s tamped down the implications of his unnatural and incestuous interest in her, but allowed his admission that he exhibited "dragon" behavior.]
  • repulsed by his clingy, perverse sexual advances, Elizabeth decided to leave immediately to meet up and elope with Browning, get married, and move with him to Italy: ("He can't stop me. I don't belong to him anymore. He could kill me, but he can't stop me....I must go. To Robert....Until today, I've never really known my father. I've even hoped I might confide in him, but now I know it would be hopeless. He'd crush me as he crushed my mother.... He's cruel - cruel and pitiless and I'm afraid"); she left a note for her father that she was leaving to be married, before taking one last look around with her dog Flush in her arms before departing

Elizabeth's One Last Look Before Departing from Her Home with Her Dog Flush in Her Arms

Final Scene: Elizabeth's Marriage to Robert Browning
  • in the final scene, they were married, and would go on to live in Italy, and become two of England's most beloved poets, writing sonnets and poems

Controlling, Widowed Patriarch Mr. Edward Moulton-Barrett (Charles Laughton)

Elizabeth (Norma Shearer) Under Her Father's Tyrannical Control

(l to r): Younger Sister Henrietta (Maureen O'Sullivan) Speaking to Elizabeth

Mr. Barrett Intervening in Elizabeth's Love Affair with Browning

The Romantic Couple

Barrett's Final Dramatic Confessional Scene with Elizabeth


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z