As the story begins in 1700's Germany, a dying woman pleads to be allowed to write a letter to her son. Knowing that he was brought up believing that his mother had brought dishonor to the House of Hanover, she longs for him to know the truth, and as she writes the letter, her story is brought to life.
For political gain, 16-year old Sophie Dorothea of Celle (Joan Greenwood) is wed to George Louis, Prince of Hanover (Peter Bull). It's a marriage neither party wants, but because they must live their lives for politics, marry for politics, and bear children for politics, they do their duty. First a son, then a daughter are born, and for Sophie Dorothea, the children are the only bright spot in her lonely life, as her husband has his share of mistresses and virtually ignores her. All too soon, the children are taken from her to begin training for their futures.
In the summer of 1689, Count Phillip Konigsmarkk of Sweden (Stewart Granger) makes a visit to Hanover. There is an immediate connection between him and Princess Sophie, and they soon fall in love. Though their love may never have been consummated (according to history, there is some doubt as to whether it was), the Count's feelings for Sophie are not lost on the powerful, hateful Countess Clara Platen (Flora Robson). Attracted to Konigsmarkk herself, Clara throws herself at him, but when he fails to respond to her, she is furious. Of course, there is no fury like that of a woman scorned, and the Countess puts in motion a plan to separate the lovers forever.
This movie is fascinating, and it appears that it hasn't greatly altered any historical facts. Sophie Dorothea and Count Konigsmarkk really did fall in love (though they may or may not have been lovers). He did, in fact, die under mysterious circumstances, presumably at the bidding of George Louis or his henchmen, and the Princess Sophie really did spend the final thirty years of her life imprisoned, while her husband took his place on the British throne.
Stewart Granger said the Saraband "script fascinated him, as he had no idea that love affair was the reason why the wife of George I of England, the mother of George II, spent the last thirty years of her life as a prisoner in the castle at Ahlden." Further, he said, he loved the story and the character he was to portray. In the end, according to his autobiography, Sparks Fly Upward, Saraband for Lovers "is one of the few films he'd always been proud of."
Mr. Granger is so incredibly handsome here, and he is terrific in the role. Also, he gets a chance to wield his sword a bit...which is always fun to watch. Joan Greenwood is exquisitely beautiful and plays her tragic part to perfection. Flora Robson, though, takes the prize for her performance. She is evil and nasty in a way I have never seen her before. Finally, the film's costumes are stunning---Oscar-worthy, in my opinion. All these things, plus my interest in the subject matter, combine to make this a 4-star, "like it a lot" film for me, quite shaking things up on the bottom half of my "top-5 Stewart Granger films" list.
Though the film is not currently on the TCM schedule, nor to my knowledge is it out on DVD, it is available in its entirety on YouTube (in parts.) I think it's well worth viewing, especially for those who like British drama, Stewart Granger, Joan Greenwood, Flora Robson, or British monarchs.
NOTE: For more information about Sophie Dorothea, her alleged affair with Phillip Konigsmarkk, and her imprisonment, go HERE.