A cavalcade is a procession, or parade of sorts. In the film, the transitions between chapters show that literally, with images of trail of people on horseback in medieval period clothes. They seem to just be the past looking on and ushering history. The real cavalcade is all about time marching on and the film focuses on a British family, from ringing in the beginning of the twentieth century up to the present in which this film first appeared, 1933.
The Marryot family, is a well-to-do couple Robert (Clive Brook) and Jane (Diana Wynyard) with two small boys in London. The film begins with a sweet moment watching the young family celebrate the new year 1900, where there seems to be nothing but potential. Marching alongside them is the Bridges family, with their baby girl Fanny. Soon the men are called off for the Boer War in Africa. At home, the Marryot boys are playing with their soldiers while their poor mother is nearly mad with worry. Not long after war is over, all of England is stricken with grief over the death of Queen Victoria. There is a beautiful image of Jane and her boys on their balcony watching the somber procession march past.
Soon the boys are grown and start taking the lead role of the stories. The elder son, Edward (John Warburton) falls in love, marries and takes a tragic honeymoon aboard the Titanic. Years later, the younger son, Joe (Frank Lawton), falls in love with Fanny (Ursula Jeans), all grown up and dancing for the troops. Though their parents disapprove, they plan to marry when he returns from WWI, but there is more tragedy.
What is left of the family is a generation getting old and remembering the potential they once had. It makes me thing that director Frank Lloyd was not at all happy with the events he saw in the beginning of the twentieth century and spelled out his disappointment in the film’s characters. Still, all they can do is march on and believe in the future.
The story can just feel like personalized history, but towards the end there was a segment that resonated and really caught my attention. Fanny sings a song called Twentieth Century Blues while a montage is shown depicting a whirlwind of nightclubs, drinking, gambling and women dancing. It seems the world has changed and become amoral in the past thirty years. All that is left for Robert and Jane to do is propose a toast to the future. One without wars. One with dignity and peace.
While all these events can feel like ancient history to us today, it is amazing to remember that it was only a few generations ago that witnessed all of this. Frank Lloyd and I are only ninety-nine years apart, perhaps we could have similar perspectives on our respected centuries. Most readers will remember how they celebrated the turn of the twenty-first century. We are the lucky generation who has embarked on a new millennium and all the events to far afterward. What cavalcade will be tell our children or grandchildren about? Let us remember and celebrate those we lost in the footsteps of history and continue to march onward with optimism, no matter what we face.
“I still believe in the future.”