When you have a mustache, no shirt and are clinging to rigging, you really need a dagger in your teeth to complete the look – The Sword and the Rose
At no point in this comic book is the character seen on the above cover, Charles Brandon, on a seafaring vessel for more than a few panels, and while there, never once does he doff his shirt. Not that I’m complaining. I don’t have a shirtless men quota that I need to meet or anything. But I will admit, I went into this expecting swarthy ocean-going adventures, with an ample supply of shoulder-borne parrots, eyepatches, peg-legs, treasure chests, et cetera, et cetera. And what did I get instead? A long, drawn out costume drama where pretty much nothing happens. I mean nothing.
1050s Disney! Sanitary and uneventful!
The Sword and the Rose (an adaptation of the 1898 novel When Knighthood Was in Flower) was an early foray by the animation-centric Disney folks into the realm of flesh and blood cinema (and was an immediate predecessor to the somewhat more interesting Rob Roy). It chronicled the semi-historical travails of Charles Brandon at the tumultuous court of Henry VIII, as he tried to stay in the King’s good graces while juggling a budding romance with one of His Majesty’s sisters. In retrospect, looking for love within Henry VIII’s family circle, where wives were exiled, divorced and beheaded at a rapid clip, seems like a minefield, but hey, at least Brandon wasn’t aiming to bed the man himself (though that would at least have been interesting).
What’s the story? Brandon is a hero of the war in France, and returns to his homeland bearing a message to the King from his superior officer. But at the palace he encounters that most British of barriers — class — and has a hard time being admitted into the royal presence. This does not sit well with a man accustomed to settling disputes with a blade:
Brandon is eventually granted access, and through a series of events becomes a captain in the King’s guard. He catches the eye of Mary Tudor, the King’s younger sister of marrying age. Once again, however, he rams his head against the invisible wall that divides those of the realm from commoners. COCK-BLOCKED BY THE QUEEN:
Though Mary is quite infatuated with this dashing commoner, Brandon rightly sees the peril involved. The powerful Duke of Buckingham is also keen on her (he’s also a deadly swordsman), and the King is looking to marry her off to the aged King of France:
Brandon gets out while the gettin’ is good, and books passage to the New World. It’s on this vessel (our brief sojourn into the setting suggested by the cover) that he discovers the extent of Mary’s romantic persistence:
D’OH! (Brandon seems to be a walking dose of Spanish Fly — women can’t resist!)
Brandon, knowing that war is in the offing if Mary stows away with him, does the honorable thing and returns her to London. He’s clamped in irons for his troubles, Mary is sent off to her new husband, who promptly keels over, Brandon makes an escape, but it’s a double-cross from Buckingham, he’s assassinated, BUT OH WAIT HE’S NOT DEAD, Mary returns from France, and Brandon has it out with Buckingham before he and Mary finally settle into wedded bliss:
Henry elevates Brandon to the nobility so that everything is nice and proper, and the two live happily ever after.
And I didn’t care about a bit of it.
It felt like it took forever to wade through this comic. It’s weighed down with dialogue and meandering court intrigue, and even when swords clank against one another it never gets off the ground. I can’t really speak for how closely this hews to the dramatic quality of the film (which, in a bit of trivia, co-stars Michael Gough — Alfred in the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies), but I imagine the material works better on a screen than a page. Nothing the matter with that, except when you force yourself to read the comic so you can write a dumb blog post.
A bright spot is the art from Dick Rockwell (yes, related to the famous artist and endorser of the Famous Artists School — his nephew). It’s expressive and detailed. You can see the disappointment, surprise and anger on the characters’ faces, and can tell when someone is conniving. This is a good thing. But it’s nowhere near enough to pull this one out of its dive.
Bottom line: Henry would have lopped this thing’s head off within seconds.