After a talent hunt which sifted through 18,000 applicants and took director Preminger to more than 20 cities, the final choice for the plum role in Shaw's classic was Jean Seberg, a young Iowa lass whose only acting experience had been in amateur productions. As soon as this film was
released, Seberg was roasted by almost everyone who saw her inexperienced attempts at the famed dialog. Shaw's play was somewhat anticlerical, and it was a surprise when Greene, an ardent converted Catholic, was chosen to adapt the work for the screen. The picture begins with a portion of the
play's epilog and goes back in time by flashback. It's France in the 15th Century, and the country is divided and ruled by Britons and Burgundians. Seberg is a teenager from the country who comes to the palace of Widmark carrying a letter of introduction from Duncan, a captain in the service. It
is said that Seberg has heard the angels speak and has a particular acquaintance with Saints Margaret and Catherine, as well as Michael the Archangel. Through them, she has received her mission in life: to help Widmark assume the throne as king. Widmark is suitably impressed by her zealousness and
makes her the commander of his army. At Orleans, there is a battle between the British and Widmark's forces, led by Seberg. Widmark is made king and orders an end to the fighting, but Seberg wants to continue and rid the country of the invaders from across the Channel. Seberg rallies her forces
but no longer has the blessing of Widmark. She is captured at Compiegne by the Burgundians, who sell her to Gielgud, the Earl of Warwick, who commands the forces of the English. Seberg is held in jail for nine months and relentlessly questioned. The church officials refuse to acknowledge that this
upstart could have been on speaking terms with saints, so she is tried for heresy in Rouen. Rather than face torture, she signs a confession but recants and tears it up when she learns that her sentence will be one of solitary confinement for life. Gielgud, in a fit of pique similar to Pilate's,
wants to put an end to this and orders Seberg's burning at the stake in a market place for all to see. The date was May 30, 1431, and the young woman was 19.
In the 1923 play, Dame Sybil Thorndike, at the age of 41, played Joan. The stage is kinder to age than the screen, and although many actresses with more experience wanted the role, Preminger opted for the newcomer and all the attendant publicity, which included Seberg's introduction on Ed
Sullivan's TV show. It didn't help, and the picture was a failure on many levels. The fervor of the child-soldier is lost on the screen; she appears to be sweet and naive, not the calculating personality Shaw intended and wrote of in the play's prolog. Preminger always uses the best actors he can
hire, and the supporting cast in this film reflects that policy. In later years, Seberg would improve greatly before her tragic death.
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- Review: After a talent hunt which sifted through 18,000 applicants and took director Preminger to more than 20 cities, the final choice for the plum role in Shaw's classic was Jean Seberg, a young Iowa lass whose only acting experience had been in amateur producti… (more)