Barely seen since its 1922 theatrical release, this silent epic is a major surprise: a charming, entertaining adventure that contradicts the long-held prejudices by film scholars against the costume dramas starring the much-maligned Marion Davies and produced by her lover, publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst.
Davies plays Mary Tudor, the free-spirited sister of Henry VIII, and the monarch plans to offer her to rival King Louis XII of France as part of a political alliance. But Mary has her own plans for her love life, and she prefers the handsome young knight Charles Brandon than the elderly French king. Of course, Henry is not one to have his command disobeyed, but Mary and Charles go through extraordinary lengths to maintain their love.
Restored from a rare nitrate print from the film’s original 12-reel road show presentation and framed with a new organ score by Ben Model, When Knighthood Was in Flower is an opulent production triumph, with rich costuming and elaborate sets. But its real power comes in Davies’ force of energy. Her gift for light comedy is evident throughout, most notably in the segment when she playfully sabotages Henry’s attempt to display her for potential royal suitors. But she is also highly credible as both a romantic lead and as an action heroine fending for her life.
If this work is any indication, Davies’ surviving films need to be seen again and her reputation requires a new consideration.