The Mudlark (1950)

23 Jan

In the poster, Irene Dunne is portrayed looking more like herself and less like Victoria, perhaps to keep audiences from being confused?

A mudlark is a child who scrounges on the muddy banks of the River Thames, looking for anything of value to sell. Even if it means taking something from a dead body. In that respect, it reminds me of Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, where characters make their living on the river by robbing the drowned bodies they find.

The Mudlark is a historical drama about Wheeler (Andrew Ray), a mudlark who finds a cameo with the image of Queen Victoria. Without parents, he is completely ignorant of everything beyond the immediate banks of the river and has no idea who she is. He is told, however, that she is Victoria, the “mother of England.” Wheeler says she looks like how he imagines a mother would look and wants to see her. But Victoria has lived in seclusion ever since her husband, Albert, died and the only way for Wheeler to see her is to sneak into Windsor Castle.

The film is partly about his quest to see Victoria, but also about Prime Minister Disraeli’s (Alec Guinness) attempts to get Queen Victoria (Irene Dunne) out of her self-imposed solitude and reengaged with her kingdom. He does this through every means at his disposal: coaxing, reasoning and flat-out political machinations at the Houses of Parliament.

Disraeli also sees Wheeler as a prime example of the kind of ignorance produced by extreme poverty and exactly the kind of child targeted by new legislation he is trying to push through parliament. The chances of the reforms being passed are low, but he knows Victoria supports the reforms and wants her to use her authority to help push it through. So, part of the film is a cat and mouse game between Disraeli and Victoria.

Alec Guinness and Irene Dunne are quite wonderful, especially Alec Guinness. Irene Dunne is almost unrecognizable as Victoria and does a remarkable job of becoming the role. She looks just like her. What gives her away is the intelligence in her eyes that is never absent from Irene Dunne, and a certain way of speaking that comes through periodically.


Wheeler and Disraeli

Alec Guinness is excellent at transforming himself into different roles. I’ve been watching a number of his films recently and he is a marvel. He too has intelligence shining from his eyes as he gallantly serves his queen, but serves shrewdly.

Victoria and Disraeli did have a very great affection for each other in reality. She loathed dealing with Gladstone when he was prime minister, but Disraeli knew how to talk with her and flatter her and they seemed to have been genuinely fond of each other. He was gallant to the extreme and would talk about Albert with her. He was also a novelist and I am pretty sure I read one of his books once – I think it was Venetia – but I seem to recall it being a melodramatic romance.

Finlay Currie also does well as the Scotsman, John Brown, who occupied a rather unusual position in Victoria’s household. He was privileged to say and do nearly anything in her presence and tended to irritate others with his uncouth and often tipsy manners, not to mention his privileged position (if you are interested in their relationship, the film to see is Mrs. Brown).

There are also other goings on in the palace, like a young lady-in-waiting who keeps trying to elope with her Lieutenant, who is delayed for various reasons.

Another thing that was interesting was the complete ignorance of the mudlark. Wheeler literally knows nothing. Nothing about God or Queen or Country. He doesn’t even know what England is. Such ignorance, however, was not unusual. In The Friendly Dickens (an introduction to all things Dickens: biography, his books), the author, Norrie Epstein, writes about the character Jo in Bleak House. Jo is a crossing sweep and also lives in a state of complete, isolating ignorance. Epstein writes that this was not an unusual case at all during he Victorian era. The situation appalled Dickens. The Mudlark is not dealing in outrage, though, but still notes the situation, particularly in a witty and pointed speech given by Disraeli to the House of Commons.

The film is occasionally stately in pace, but I found a lot to enjoy and it doesn’t take itself that seriously. It manages to encompass a wide swathe of people: queen, politicians, solders, servants both high and low, and a small mudlark from the river.


Queen Victoria and Wheeler


Posted by on January 23, 2017 in Movies


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16 responses to “The Mudlark (1950)

  1. Andrea Lundgren

    January 23, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Wow, she really does look nothing like herself in that picture! It makes me curious to watch the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      January 23, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      I think you’d enjoy it! And it was fun to see Alec Guinness as Disraeli, too.

      It sent Leandra and I rushing off to watch Young Victoria again, too. 🙂


      • Andrea Lundgren

        January 23, 2017 at 1:02 pm

        I want to see the new series, too. Have you seen that at all?

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          January 23, 2017 at 1:06 pm

          I haven’t, but would really like to. Have you heard anything about it? There is a new biography out, too, which Nana has and said she’d be willing to lend out.


  2. Silver Screenings

    January 29, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Whoa! I would not have recognized Irene Dunne as Queen Victoria if I hadn’t known it was she.

    Here’s another film you’ve introduced me to, and I would love to track it down. We just recently started watching “The Crown” via Netflix in our house, so I’m looking for more royalty-themed films.


    • christinawehner

      January 29, 2017 at 1:43 pm

      I know – doesn’t she look just like Victoria!

      Oh, I’ve been very curious about The Crown. How are you enjoying it?


      • Silver Screenings

        January 29, 2017 at 2:42 pm

        I didn’t think I’d like “The Crown” for fear it would be a dreadful soap opera. But I quite like it. The sets and costumes and music are stunning, but the actors are amazing. It’s perfectly cast, in my opinion, even John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. After seeing two episodes, I recommend it.

        … But if it veers off the rails and turns into soap opera dreck, then I’ll be Unhappy.

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          January 29, 2017 at 3:29 pm

          You make it sound very appealing. I will definitely have to check it out – thanks!

          Did you ever watch Downton Abbey? That seemed to get soapier by the season and I eventually gave up. Here’s hoping The Crown continues as is!!


          • Silver Screenings

            January 29, 2017 at 3:31 pm

            I watched 1.5 seasons of Downton Abbey, and grew weary of how often Mr Bates was being framed for something. A beautiful show in many ways, but I. Just. Couldn’t. Take. It.

            Liked by 1 person

            • christinawehner

              January 29, 2017 at 9:16 pm

              Yeah, I know what you mean. I almost wished he would be executed, just to put the poor guy out of his misery. 🙂


  3. maddylovesherclassicfilms

    May 30, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    I love this film! It is such a little gem. Guinness is at his best here portraying Disraeli. I love the set design for the palace interiors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      May 30, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      I’m so glad to find someone else who likes this film! It seems rather obscure, alas.

      Guinness is amazing, isn’t he! The copy I saw of the film was only okay, but I would love to see a nicely restored version of this that could do it all full justice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • maddylovesherclassicfilms

        May 31, 2017 at 3:56 am

        Sadly it is a much unsung gem. I wish it was better known. He is fantastic. Dunne is also excellent, and unrecognisable as the elderly Queen Victoria. I wish more people out there had seen this. I keep hoping for a Blu-ray release for this.

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          May 31, 2017 at 9:51 am

          That would be lovely! Olive Film puts little seen films on Blu-ray…maybe they would do it someday.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Percy

    June 18, 2017 at 2:24 am

    Hello Christina, have been trying to get my hands on ” the Mudlark” for so long. Fan of Guinness.
    From where and how do I get to download this movie? Can you help?

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm

      Hi Percy,

      I actually rented it from Classicflix, which operates somewhat like Netflix. They specialize only in classic movies and send the DVD to you from their base in Sacramento, though they do not, alas, stream. Unfortunately, the only other place I’ve seen it available is for sale at Amazon as a DVD. I’m sorry this isn’t of more help!



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