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The first biopic of Handel, The Great Mr Handel, was released in 1942 and was directed by Norman Walker with Wilfred Lawson in the title role. Using the first edition of Newman Flower’s 1923 biography of Handel as its main source of factual information, the film mostly concentrates on the period of the composer’s life from around 1738 up to first performance of Messiah in 1742. A significant portion of the film centres around Handel’s financial and health problems resulting from the demise of Italian opera in London as well as his subsequent recovery and the composition of Messiah, inspired, according to the film, by divine intervention. While the The Great Mr Handel by no means presents an accurate or complete description of Handel’s life, it does provide a number of insights into wartime Britain, presenting Handel’s struggle to overcome his financial and personal difficulties as an allegory to the problems facing Britain during the Second World War. Handel, who, along with Messiah, and largely thanks to the Victorians, had become a national icon, comes to represent wartime Britain in the film and functions as a symbol of hope for the British public during the war. This paper explores the allegories to 1940s-wartime Britain found in the biopic while taking Handel’s position as a national icon and Messiah performances as a national institution, both of which enabled the film’s production, into consideration. The links between the film and the Handel biographies available to the scriptwriters in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, especially the pre-revised editions of Newman Flower’s biography of Handel, will also be traced, and contemporary views of Handel and his music will be taken into account.


Haendel après Haendel :
Construction, renommée, influence de Haendel et de la figure haendélienne
Matthew Gardner
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
The Great Mr Handel (1942): Handel's First Biopic, its Sources and Wartime Allegory