Nurse Edith Cavell

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Nurse Edith Cavell
Directed byHerbert Wilcox
James Anderson (assistant)
Lloyd Richards (assistant)
Screenplay byMichael Hogan
Based onDawn
1928 novel
by Reginald Berkeley
Produced byHerbert Wilcox
Merrill G. White (associate)
StarringAnna Neagle
Edna May Oliver
George Sanders
May Robson
ZaSu Pitts
CinematographyF. A. Young
Joseph H. August
Edited byElmo Williams
Music byAnthony Collins
Imperadio Pictures
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • September 22, 1939 (1939-09-22) (Premiere-New York City)[1]
  • September 29, 1939 (1939-09-29) (US)[1]
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,082,000[2]

Nurse Edith Cavell is a 1939 American film directed by British director Herbert Wilcox about Edith Cavell. The film was nominated at the 1939 Oscars for Best Original Score.


The story follows the broadly true story of Edith Cavell who went to German-occupied Brussels after the onset of the First World War.

Edith hides the young Frenchman Jean Rappard, but is suspected of this and her hospital is inspected by German troops at regular intervals. Jean is put on a canal barge and despite being searched at the border escapes successfully.

Back in Brussels a firing squad executes a dozen escaped prisoners who were caught in the woods. Edith and Albert go to try to find wounded on a battlefield near the woods and bring back four British men including Pte Bungey of the Buffs. They are hidden in the hospital in a secret room accessed through a wardrobe in the basement boiler room. The Countess goes to the cobbler to organise their safe transportation.

Meanwhile Edith also tends the young dying Germans in the main hospital. A further three Frenchmen are sent to the border by barge with Mme Moulin.

An alleged escaped French PoW arrives at the Countess's mansion. The Countess is suspicious due to his accent and locks him in the kitchen whilst informing the German authorities. The hospital is also being watched. Nevertheless the numbers increase ... but they include Wilhelm Schultz of the German military intelligence. He therefore works out how Edith and the Countess operate. Esch person is given new ID papers and money.

On 5 August 1915 Edith is arrested and placed in the Prison of St Gilles. A campaign begins to release her, but the Germans wish to "set an example" and wish her shot.

In the court she is charged with the far more serious crime of espionage. The very young Francois Rappard is brought into the court (in handcuffs) as the critical non-military witness. The authorities point out that the people who were helped returned to the front and killed Germans. Edith admits to having had helped at least 200 men escape. The three military judges go to decide her sentence. She is read the sentence in her cell by Cpt. Heinrichs: she is to be shot at dawn.

The authorities are evasive when they are asked by the British consul to give the result of the trial. Pleas for clemency are ignored.

Some of the proposed firing squad say they are ill as they do not wish to shoot a woman. But on the allotted morning eight soldiers shoot her dead.

On May 15, 1919 a memorial service is held in Westminster Abbey.



The film made a profit of $38,000.[2] Modern Screen gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, stating that the film was "a powerful message against war and hatred", and that it maintained its level of suspense throughout the course of the picture. They praised the acting, particularly that of Anna Neagle in the title role, as well as May Robson, Edna May Oliver, and ZaSu Pitts, in their roles of women who aid the fleeing soldiers. The performance of Rex Downing was called "notable", and that of Lionel Royce was described as "stand-out". Also commended were George Sanders, Mary Howard, Sophie Stewart and H.B. Warner. The magazine was especially enthusiastic of Herbert Wilcox's direction, in that he managed to make every part credible, and even the roles of the "heavies" managed to be shown with compassion and understanding.[3]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result
1940 Academy Awards Best Music, Score Anthony Collins Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Nurse Edith Clavell: Detail View". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on April 2, 2014. Retrieved September 14, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p56
  3. ^ "Movie Reviews: Nurse Edith Cavell". Modern Screen. November 1938. p. 15. Retrieved December 31, 2015.Open access icon

External links[edit]