The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex (Blu-ray Review)

We have to be nearing the Warner Archive Collection release of Captain Blood, right? They seem to be strolling through the catalog of legendary director Michael Curtiz with an almost monthly regularity. He and actor Errol Flynn are also one of the earliest and most famed director/actor combinations of all time. This month of May, they are releasing their collaboration on The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, which also stars the iconic Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth and a breakout role for a young Vincent Price. They’ve done a 4K restoration from the Technicolor negative as well as ported over some of the original bonus features. It’ll hit the (online) streets on May 18th, and when you just hear “Michael Curtiz”, “Errol Flynn”, “Warner Archive” together, know its an instant pick up. Which you can do by pre-ordering using the paid Amazon Associates link following the review.



Queen Elizabeth (Bette Davis) secretly loves the ambitious and courageous Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn), but at the same time she distrusts his desire for power, fearing he will exploit his political influence to her detriment. Though Essex’s popularity soars when he returns victorious from a military campaign in Spain, Elizabeth instead chides him for prosecuting an unprofitable war. While the lovers quarrel, Sir Walter Raleigh (Vincent Price) schemes to bring about the downfall of Essex.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is tragic, tough tale of the persona battle between love, power and ambition. A love for a man and a love for country and obsession of power strikes at the heart of Queen Elizabeth. Bette Davis soars in her performance, which showcases the unstable queen in a bit of an intense but somehow sympathetic fashion. Her portrayal, delivery and mannerisms are so terrific, its always a shocker when she presents a dramatic turn in order to keep true to herself and not let feelings cloud her judgement and stronghold on royalty/power.

What makes the push/pull of the relationship with the queen and Earl of Essex is the more casual nature in the performance of Errol Flynn. He’s much more open, more laid back and more outward and honest with his feelings. There’s a triumph of gullibility with him and it stings the man at every turn. I don’t want to say his performance is shallow, but there’s a sort of simplicity in him that needs to happen (Which he delivers) in order to make it work against Davis’ more complex queen character. A pair like this has to yin and yang one another, and Davis paired with Flynn absolutely pulls it off.

Michael Curtiz tosses in his usual studio brilliance and showcases sets and some outdoor work that not only marvel in their gorgeous appearance (ESPECIALLY in this restoration), but also makes for a great companion to his work on The Adventures of Robin Hood. There are few directors better at capturing old Hollywood sets, bringing them to life, and setting and grand scale while also making them viable realities than Curtiz. His world brought to life in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is one you’d wish you could visit, tour around and take in.

One landmark footnote on The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is that it marks the breakout role of a young Vincent Price. This was only Price’s second known credited film or television role, but his performance as Sir Walter Raleigh put the world on notice. He’s a very supporting player here, but he does add a bit of a fun presence and rather blends into the material quite well. I’m not sure he’s a scene stealer here, but he’s still very good. Price would follow this up by immediately building up his resume as one of horror’s most iconic performers with The Tower of London and The Invisible Man Returns.

Stage play turned grand period drama film with two of Hollywood’s titans at the top, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is a swooping drama of troubled romance and a fight for power and royalty. Though the title features two names, this one moreso feels a character study of Queen Elizabeth, brought to life and showcasing such complexity in a fantastic performance from Bette Davis. Paint and dress it with the greatest of design, dashing cinematography and the masterful touch of Michael Curtiz and you have yourself one hell of a period picture.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex debuts with a brand new 4K restoration from the original Technicolor negatives.  And my is it ever so gorgeous. I can 100% tell you that this is what a perfect transfer looks like. If you’re jaw is not on the ground the moments this film starts playing, please get your eyes check. This is marveling with clarity, detail, texture and good celluloid sharpness. The colors on display here are absolutely bursting, controlled and lovely. It also has some outstanding spatial depth on display to add to the sheer power the image delivers. You may have to watch the film twice just to get the “I can’t believe what I’m looking at” out of your system first, and then enjoy the film second. I’m going to be spoiled this month, as I have Paramount’s My Fair Lady 4K sitting on deck to check out.

Depth:  Depth of field is quite outstanding, with very three dimensional and well rounded characters, objects and sets taking up the frame. Curtiz display of how big the castle is in relation to actors is quite impression. Very good pushback and depth in interiors. Movement is smooth and cinematic, and no blur or jitter issues occur from rapid motions.

Black Levels:  Blacks are quite deep and about as much at a natural level as you could probably achieve with the standard Blu-ray format. There is a terrific contrast to helping the dimensional work and color pop. Great darkened rooms, shading and more purvey a great image with no issues regarding detail hidden by anything to darkened. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: This beauty pops right off the screen with a nice charge. Costumes, sets, upholstery, flags…its all just bursts with great saturation and any given color (greens, blues, reds, purple, etc) gets to shine. Even the wood, stone walls, tiles and other “regular” colors have a bold, striking appearance to them with a well-rounded sense of tints, shades and more to really make for some solid presence and detail.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish with a completely stable appearance, which means they restored this technicolor beauty correctly. Facial features and textures such as make-up brush strokes, lip texture, beauty marks, freckles, sweat, stubble, wrinkles and more come through elegantly and clear as day.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.


Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics:  Like the video transfer accompanying it, the audio for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is quite a treat to take in as well. Its going to be overshadowed by the visuals, but Warner Archive has done a marvelous job with a great balance of music, effects and vocals, putting the dialogue a little ahead of the rest. There is really barely an audible hiss abound, and you get a real nice sense of feeling like you’re on set or in the front couple rows for a lavish stage production.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are absolute dynamite here, clear and crisp. Very present in the mix and at the front of everything. Such good restoration has led to question at times whether the analog hiss from the source is even present.


Warner Night at the Movies (SD, 33:16)

  • Intro by Leonard Malton
  • “Dark Victory” trailer
  • Newsreel
  • WB Cartoon: “Old Glory”
  • WB Short: “The Royal Rodeo”

WB Featurette: “Elizabeth & Essex: Battle Royale” (SD, 10:36) – A talking heads of writers/critics/authors/historians and an actor from the film discuss the background on the film’s production which focuses on the disdain that Better Davis and Errol Flynn had for one another.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:29) – In black and white


The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is a bit of a powerhouse, power play, push pull drama that sees its leads beautifully squaring off (Perhaps their real life conflicts inspired them). Warner Archive Collection has done one of the most fantastic jobs in restoring this to astounding degrees. The bonus features provided are quite fun as well. This is an absolute must have for any serious collector to add to their shelves.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link


Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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