I don’t know about you but after the month of grim 1915 films, I need a break and something a little lighter. This month, I will be covering one of the most lavish sub-genres of the silent era: the Ruritanian romance.
Ruritania was the fictional mitteleuropean nation featured in The Prisoner of Zenda, one of the most famous and popular stories in the genre. Ruritanian romances often features swashbuckling adventure, courtly intrigue and very civilized romance in a made-up country somewhere in Europe. There’s also usually an Englishman or American on hand to talk some sense into the locals.
The decline of these films and movies coincided with the general decline of European royalty, though it did hold onto some its popularity through the mid-century. It is a pity that it’s so rare these days. (And remember, Ruritanian romances are not just about a fictional nation. Swashes must be buckled too.) Modern shows and movies concerning royalty and power grabs are often dark, lurid affairs. The comparative innocence of the Ruritanian romance is the key to its charm.
And, of course, any film genre that was poplar in the silent era also had a string of spoofs attached to it. I can assure you that there will be plenty of comedy this month.
As an appetizer, you can try my review of the 1922 version of The Prisoner of Zenda (I cover the 1937 and 1952 versions as well). Or, if you want something a little different, you can try Erich von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow. It is not a Ruritanian romance, strictly speaking, but it does share many of the same story elements (fictional European kingdom, royal falling for an American, power grabs).
A straightforward Ruritanian tale of a reluctant bridegroom and a palace power grab. 1910s power couple Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne star.
Harry Langdon’s adorable spoof of The Prisoner of Zenda is fun, if fragmented.
The Ruritanian romance enters a new era with kingdoms crumbling and Wallace Reid on hand to save the day.
Even kings and grand duchesses don’t want the job of governing anymore, as we see in this cute romance starring Bessie Love and Joseph and Rudolph Schildkraut.