The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a weak Best Picture nominee from the 1930s. It lacks any strong spark to bring it out of the dull territory it inhabits for 109 minutes. The film takes place primarily in one room with almost all of the action occurring inside the Barretts’ home. These interior scenes have uninspired staging and are boringly shot. Even if you didn’t know The Barretts of Wimpole Street was based on a play, you can figure it out pretty easily since director Sidney Franklin didn’t hide it very well. It often feels like a recording of a stage play rather than a film itself.
You can add The Barretts of Wimpole Street to the melodrama subgenre, “films with weird and controlling fathers who have uncomfortable relationships with their daughters.” Charles Laughton plays the annoying father to Norma Shearer’s Elizabeth Barrett. He has a very creepy relationship with his daughters and kisses his adult niece on the lips. Based on Edward’s (Laughton) relationship with Elizabeth, one could say it’s a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. He repeatedly tells his daughter that she’s sick and therefore cannot leave her house or bed. At one point in the film, Elizabeth manages to go down the stairs, but then is unable to go up them after Edward repeatedly tells her she won’t be able to. I believe that Elizabeth may have actually been sick at one point before the movie takes place but was “sick” for a long time afterwards because she believed she was, due to her father.
Norma Shearer is one of the very few good aspects of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. In addition to what I said before, the film is fairly predictable. Many scenes set up each other so you know what’s going to happen in the following scene. The film’s plot is minimal, with its only conflict being that Edward won’t let Elizabeth do anything. The majority of the film is essentially Elizabeth talking to people and Edward bursting in to scold her and the people trying to make her life less unbearable. There are better movies out there with similar stories that are more worth your time.