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Bonnie Prince Charlie
Bonnie Prince Charlie FilmPoster.jpeg
DVD cover
Directed byAnthony Kimmins
Alexander Korda (uncredited)
Leslie Arliss (uncredited)
Robert Stevenson (uncredited)
Written byClemence Dane
Produced byEdward Black
Alexander Korda
Herbert Mason (uncredited)
StarringDavid Niven
Margaret Leighton
Judy Campbell
Jack Hawkins
CinematographyRobert Krasker
Edited byGrace Garland
Music byIan Whyte
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release dates
  • 26 October 1948 (1948-10-26) (United Kingdom, London)
  • 6 January 1952 (1952-01-06) (US)
Running time
140 minutes (original cut)
118 mins
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£600,000[1] or £760,000[2]
Box office£175,311 (UK)[3] or £94,327[2]

Bonnie Prince Charlie is a 1948 British historical film directed by Anthony Kimmins for London Films depicting the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion and the role of Bonnie Prince Charlie within it. Filmed in Technicolor, it stars David Niven, Jack Hawkins, and Margaret Leighton.


In 1745, Flora MacDonald plays a Jacobite song on the piano and is scolded by her stepfather for its seditious nature. In Italy, James, the Old Pretender, wants to make another attempt at regaining the throne of Great Britain (Scotland and England) and Ireland for the House of Stuart from the Hanoverian King George II, but, thinking that he is now too old, he has decided to send his son, Charles Edward, the Young Pretender.

Charles arrives in Scotland by ship and meets Donald, a Scottish shepherd, whom he asks to send a message to the Scottish nobles, asking them to meet him at his ship. Meanwhile, King George II is warned about the impending invasion but is not worried. Charles tries to persuade the nobles to fight for him and most agree, except for Lord MacDonald, who is concerned about the absence of the French support which had been promised. The clans rally to Charles, including Lord George Murray, and proclaim their loyalty to James. The rebellion begins. Charles is accompanied by another shepherd, Blind Jimmie.

Charles and his men enter Edinburgh in triumph. Clementina Walkinshaw throws him a rose and they meet at a dance and begin a romance. General Cope arrives with government troops and Lord Murray does not want to tell Charles about it, thinking little of his military ability, but the prince finds out. Charles recommends they attack and the Jacobite forces rapidly defeat the Government forces at the Battle of Prestonpans.

Charles and his forces then proceed into England. King George II starts to panic and sends his son, the Duke of Cumberland, to fight him. At Derby, only 127 miles from London, Lord Murray and the army council recommend a retreat, as further support has failed to materialise. Charles opposes this but the retreat goes ahead. Charles is upset and seeks solace with Clementina, who encourages him to leave for France with her, but he elects to stay with his men.

The Duke of Cumberland defeats the Highlanders at the Battle of Culloden but is unable to find and capture Charles. Charles flees to the islands with Donald, and is hidden by Flora MacDonald. MacDonald helps him evade the government troops looking for him, including taking him with her to Skye disguised as a woman servant. MacDonald keeps up Charles' spirits, and he manages to reach the boat sent to take him back to Italy.




In April 1936 Leslie Howard announced he wanted to make a film about Bonnie Prince Charlie.[4] Two years later he said he would make it with Alexander Korda after his films of Lawrence of Arabia and Lord Nelson. "I am so in love with the story of Charles Edward that I would not undertake it unless I had time to adequately prepare and complete it", said Howard.[5] Plans to make the film were delayed by World War II, in which Howard was killed. After the war Alexander Korda announced a Bonnie Prince Charlie project. Michael Powell was originally named as the director.[6] Then in April it was announced that Leslie Arliss would direct and Ted Black would be borrowed from MGM to produce. No star was cast in the lead; the only person cast at all was Kieron Moore who would play Charlie's Irish adjutant.[7]

David Niven became a front runner to play the part. He was a friend of Howard's before the latter's death.[8] David Niven's casting was formally announced in May.[9] At the time, David Niven said that he was keen to make the film as it gave him the chance to return to England, and he did not enjoy being in Hollywood after the death of his first wife. He was so enthusiastic he did a screen test in costume to persuade Samuel Goldwyn, who had Niven under contract, to loan him out to Alexander Korda, who was producing the film.[10][11] Later on, however, Niven alleged he had been forced by Goldwyn to take the role.[12] It was one of the few roles Niven played in his career without his moustache.[13] He says Goldwyn received $150,000 from Korda for his services, although Niven only got a fraction of that.[14]

Norman Ginsbury and Elizabeth Montgomery wrote the original script.[15]

Location shooting

Filming took place on location in Scotland and at Shepperton Studios in London. Second unit filming began in August 1946 near Fort William. Doubles for the main cast were used as David Niven was unavailable until the spring.[16] The budget was reported then as being £500,000.[17] Doubles and extra were filmed raising the standard at Glenfinnan.[18] Soldiers in the British Army were hired as extras, but complained they were not paid.[19]

In March 1947 it was announced Robert Stevenson would be directing.[20] Niven did not arrive in London until July 1947.[21][22]

Korda's original choice to play Flora MacDonald was Deborah Kerr, but she had accepted a Hollywood contract and was unavailable for filming.[23] Stage actor Margaret Leighton was cast instead. C. Aubrey Smith was meant to be in a supporting role but filming took so long to start he ended up returning to Hollywood.[24]


Filming finally began in August 1947. By now the script was by Clemence Dane and was to be in two parts, The Story about the '45, and The Legend about Charlie fleeing from the British.[25]

Filming took over nine months. Anthony Kimmins would direct much of the final film; Korda also directed some of it.[26][27] Will Fyffe died during the film and many of his scenes had to be re-shot.

Niven later recalled the film without affection:

Bonnie Prince Charlie was one of those huge, florid extravaganzas that reek of disaster from the start. There was never a completed screenplay, and never during the eight months we were shooting were the writers more than two days ahead of the actors. In confusion we suffered three changes of directors, with Korda himself desperately taking over, and at one point I cabled Goldwyn: "I have now worked every day for five months on this picture and nobody can tell me how story ends. Advise." He didn't. He didn't even bother to answer. I loved Alex Korda, a brilliant, generous creature, but with this film he was wallowing in confusion. I felt sorry for him, but sorrier for myself as the Bonnie Prince who would assuredly bear the blame for the impending debacle.[12]

However, Niven did meet his second wife during filming.[28]


The film formed part of a pattern for film portrayal of true life tragic historical figures. However the overall theme would have little grass roots sympathy in Scotland and none whatsoever in England . It had its world premiere in Edinburgh in October 1948, reflecting its limited appeal.[29]

The film was poorly received by London film critics, most criticising it as dull and suggesting that David Niven was miscast. However, Margaret Leighton received acclaim for her performance.[30] Alex Korda took out paid advertisements defending the film and criticising the critics.[31] The film failed to recoup its cost at the box office.

Producer Edward Black died not long after the premiere.

US release

20th Century Fox agreed to distribute in the US.[32]

The film's US release was held back, along with other Korda productions, out of fear of anti-British protests from American-Jewish groups opposed to British policy in Palestine.[33] The film was finally released in the US in 1952.

Home media

The film was released on DVD on 14 March 2011.


  1. ^ "THE STARRY WAY". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane. 13 March 1948. p. 2. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  2. ^ a b Harper, Sue; Porter, Vincent (2003). British Cinema of The 1950s The Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press USA. p. 275.
  3. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000
  4. ^ ""THE CINEMA: HISTORICAL--MORE OR LESS" The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland 21 April 1936: 13".
  5. ^ "PROSPERITY RETURNS TO PINEWOOD: LESLIE HOWARD ON PRINCE CHARLIE FILM" The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland 31 May 1938: 1
  6. ^ ""Prince Charlie" Film Will Wait for Niven". K M G. Times Pictorial. Dublin, Ireland. 5 January 1946. p. 9.
  7. ^ "THE FILM SCENE ALONG THE THAMES: Plans Altered The Korda Group Personal History" by C. A. LEJEUNE. New York Times 21 April 1946: 51.
  8. ^ "THE ARGUS introduces the exciting story of LESLIE HOWARD...AND THE MYSTERY OF FLIGHT 777". The Argus. Melbourne. 22 September 1956. p. 9. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ C. A. LEJEUNE (26 May 1946). "ACTIVITIES IN LONDON STUDIOS: History vs. Tradition Prospectus". New York Times. p. X3.
  11. ^ "PETER KINGSTON'S FILMS". The Daily News. Perth. 8 June 1946. p. 26 Edition: FIRST EDITION. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ a b "DAVID NIVEN'S OWN STORY". The Australian Women's Weekly. 15 September 1971. p. 15. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ "Australian director may return home". The Australian Women's Weekly. 30 August 1947. p. 40. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ Philip Scheuer (21 August 1949). "Niven, Liberated, Revels in Leisure: Fourteen Years of Taking Orders From Goldwyn or Army at End". Los Angeles Times. p. D1.
  15. ^ "NIVEN WILL APPEAR IN FILM FOR KORDA: Actor to Have Lead in 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'--'Centennial Summer' at Roxy Today Of Local Origin" Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. 17 July 1946: 27.
  16. ^ C. A. LEJEUNE (25 August 1946). "BUSY DAYS IN LONDON: Film Studios Move Into High Gear, With Full Schedule of Pictures Under Way Films Coming Up In Father's Footsteps Notes in Brief". New York Times. p. 51.
  17. ^ "'BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE': Striking Scenes in Film "RIDING THE SCREE" IN GLENCOE" A Special Correspondent. The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland 26 Aug 1946: 3
  18. ^ "FILMING THE 'FORTY-FIVE: On the Actual Site of Prince Charles's Landing-Place in Scotland" The Sphere; London 186.2432 (Aug 31, 1946): 283.
  19. ^ "Soldiers Dislike Being Unpaid Film Extras". The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 August 1946. p. 3. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  20. ^ "LONDON CHEERS PAULETTE GODDARD: Star Proves to Be Own Best Press Agent--Of Studio Activities" by C. A. LEJEUNE. New York Times 30 Mar 1947: X5.
  21. ^ "PICKFORD, CHAPLIN TO NAME UA HEAD: Owners of Studio Scheduled to Select New Executive -- Reorganization Under Way" Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times 12 July 1947: 7.
  22. ^ "Margaret Leighton Cast Opposite David Niven -- On the Ballet -- Other Matters" by C. A. LEJEUNE. New York Times 27 July 1947: X3.
  23. ^ "Korda Film Postponed". The Mail. Adelaide. 24 May 1947. p. 3 Supplement: SUNDAY MAGAZINE. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  24. ^ "DRAMA AND FILM: Conway in 'Mobster;' Searl Menaces Hope" Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 23 July 1947: A2
  25. ^ "UNCERTAINTY SLOWS BRITISH STUDIOS" by C. A. LEJEUNE. New York Times 24 Aug 1947: X3
  26. ^ "GLOOM, NOT FOG, ENVELOPS ENGLISH FILM STUDIOS: Expected Upswing in Production Fails to Materialize, but Costs Mount -- Castings" by C. A. LEJEUNE LONDON.. New York Times 7 Mar 1948: X5.
  27. ^ "British Film News 17-YEARS-OLD OPHELIA FOR SCREEN "HAMLET"". The Sydney Morning Herald. 15 May 1947. p. 10. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  28. ^ "FANS AT WEDDING OF FILM STAR". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 15 January 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  29. ^ "THE COLLAPSE OF FRANCE: War-time Diaries of Paul Baudouin VALUABLE RECORD" The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland 30 Sep 1948: 4.
  30. ^ "Not Pleased With Critics". The Barrier Miner. Broken Hill, NSW. 31 January 1949. p. 3. Retrieved 6 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  31. ^ 'LONDON CRITICS REBUKED', New York Times 28 November 1948: X5.
  32. ^ "Fox Studio Sets '48 in '48' Goal for Film Output" Los Angeles Times 12 Jan 1948: A2
  33. ^ "BRITAIN'S JEWS HIT FILM BOYCOTT HERE: They Denounce Action by Sons of Liberty as Damaging to Israel and Anglo-U.S. Ties" Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times 21 Aug 1948: 5.