[Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953.] Typed and Autograph Drafts by playwright Christopher Fry, of prose and poetry for his screenplay of the documentary film 'A Queen Is Crowned'.

Christopher Fry (1907-2005), playwright [Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953; Laurence Olivier; Rank Organisation, London]
Publication details: 
[Production by the Rank Organisation, London. Released in 1953.]
SKU: 22296

Seven items from the Christopher Fry papers, relating to the film 'A Queen Is Crowned', which was a British box office hit in coronation year, and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. At the time of writing Fry was at the height of his popularity: around this time he had four plays running in the West End at once. 'A Queen Is Born' - billed as 'The only full-length feature of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II' - was made in Technicolour, produced by Castleton Knight for the Rank Organisation, with music by Guy Warrack, and with Fry's script narrated by Laurence Olivier. It was released to cinemas within days of the coronation, and was rapturously received, the reviewer Campbell Dixon reporting that at the preview the audience burst into repeated rounds of applause. The film is assessed by Monk and Sargeant, "British Historical Cinema' (2015), pp.86-89, as "a time capsule" which "deserves to be regarded as more than a mere curio'. Fry would go on to do notable work in Hollywood: he rewrote (uncredited) the entire script of 'Ben Hur' (1959), and was responsible for the screenplay of the Dino De Laurentiis epic 'The Bible: In the Beginning' (1966), directed by John Houston. The seven items offered here relate to four sections. One is an autograph draft of a prose passage concerning the coronation service itself, preceded by notes; Two to Four are typewritten drafts of two poetic passages; Five to Seven are three drafts of a prose passage about London on coronation day. The seven items are in good condition, lightly aged. ONE: Corrected Autograph Draft of prose section and notes concerning the coronation service. 3pp, 8vo. On two leaves. At the foot of the final page, in red ink, Fry has written at a later date the title '”A Queen is Crowned”'. The three pages begin with notes, divided into numbered sections, of ten stages of the service. There follow five numbered passages – the last heavily revised – describing individual stages, the first reading: 'The Queen leaves the Chair of Estate. - She will take her stand near by King Edward's Chair: and there the Archbishop will present the Queen to her people for their Recognition. Four times he presents the Queen: four times the Queen turns to her people, first to the East, & then the South, the West, & the North: & each time the People signify their willingness & joy to do her homage & service, crying out with one voice God Save Queen Elizabeth'. The last page begins with two drafts of a passage beginning 'The trumpets have sounded'. In the second version this continues: 'a thunder of guns roars across Hyde Park, and far off, eastward on the river, the guns at the Tower of London answer; so her people in the city & town of London hear & know & salute this moment of crowning.' After two more paragraphs the text concludes: 'And when the Queen has gone to the Altar & made her Oblation, offering the Bread & Wine for the Communion, & an altar cloth & a wedge of gold, the Duke of Edinburgh goes to her side, & they kneel together.' TWO to FOUR: Three typewritten drafts pages of poetic text, the first two pages of one passage and the third of another, with autograph emendations and additions. 3pp, 8vo, and each page on a separate leaf. The first and second pages contain a total of three drafts (two on the first page and one on the second) of a passage beginning 'This earth, this realm, no longer England only'. Five lines of typewritten text are deleted at the foot of the first page, and replaced by the following four lines in autograph, not present elsewhere: 'Until a Scottish King became England's King, | And south & north became one loyalty: | And when Scotland's King became England's King, | In James the Sixth and the First,'. The second page carries a further thirteen lines of autograph text, with eight lines at the end of the page comprising two versions of the same passage (again not present elsewhere), the first reading: 'Those countries, separate but indivisible, | A union of loyalty within sea-born | Overhanging the waves, to the Ulstermen. | And the Channel Islanders'. The third page carries the typescript of a different passage from the other two, beginning: 'And here, rising like a rock or island | Out of the waving, devoted sea of people, | Are those figures of symbol which surround | Victoria's Memorial'. The twenty-one lines of text include three stabs at the same line, the first two deleted: 'For every man is God's trust to all brother men. | (For all men are God's trust to their brother men) | For each man is God's trust to every man'. FIVE to SEVEN: Three typescripts of a section regarding London on 'the day of the crowning'. Each 1p, 8vo. The first draft headed in pencil '20 m[inutes]', and the first two each with a number of autograph emendations. The following passage is deleted from the first of the three: 'One man had got up from his sick bed and walked and thumbed lifts to London. “You are ill,” they told him, “if you go to London we can't promise you won't die.” “Very well,” he said, “but first I shall see the Queen.”' The first draft carries a longer version (beginning 'In the half-light the people from the countryside are brought by train and bus to the city.') of the following passage from the second, which is omitted in the third: 'The crowds grow as the daylight grows. Already there's music playing: the Band of Guards in the Palace forecourt, playing as it did when the little Princess Elizabeth woke and jumped from her bed and went to the window to hear them, sixteen years ago.' The second draft ends with a passage not present in the other two, describing the 'carriage procession'. The opening passage of the third draft tidies-up the versions of the other two: 'On the day of the crowning, the morning light came up over London, the gradual ceremony of daybreak. The light came to the gilded (crowns?) on the gates of the palace, and to a people and a world in waiting. May had sat waiting all night long in the streets, living through the darkness for the sake of the great hour that was coming. In the half-light the people of the countryside came flowing into London. The crowds grew with the daylight in the streets, and in the Park, and in the Mall.'