The Barretts of Wimpole Street

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The Barretts of Wimpole Street
First US edition 1930
Written byRudolf Besier
Date premieredAugust 20, 1930 (1930-08-20)
Place premieredMalvern Festival,
Malvern, Worcestershire
SettingElizabeth Barrett's bed-sitting-room at 50 Wimpole Street, London, in 1845

The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a 1930 play by the Dutch/English dramatist Rudolf Besier, based on the romance between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, and her father's unwillingness to allow them to marry. The play gave actress Katharine Cornell her signature role.


Katharine Cornell as Elizabeth Barrett in the original Broadway production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1931)

The Barretts of Wimpole Street was Rudolf Besier's only real success as a playwright. It was first staged August 20, 1930, at the Malvern Festival in Malvern, Worcestershire. Directed by Sir Barry Jackson, the production starred Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett and Scott Sunderland as Robert Browning.[1]

Besier then turned to the United States, but was rebuffed by no fewer than 27 producers, before the actress Katharine Cornell took a personal interest in the play and had it staged at the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio in 1931. The role of Elizabeth Barrett worked so well for Cornell that it became her signature role.[2]

The Barretts of Wimpole Street then went to Broadway, where it opened on February 9, 1931, at the Empire Theatre, starring Katharine Cornell and Brian Aherne.[3] It was revived there in 1934 and 1945.

Original Broadway cast[edit]

  • Katharine Cornell as Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett
  • Brian Aherne as Robert Browning
  • Margaret Barker as Henrietta Moulton-Barrett
  • John Buckler as Captain Surtees Cook
  • Joyce Carey as Arabel Moulton-Barrett
  • Leslie Denison as George Moulton-Barrett
  • Vernon Downing as Alfred Moulton-Barrett
  • Flush as Flush (Elizabeth's dog)
  • Brenda Forbes as Wilson
  • John Halloran as Octavius Moulton-Barrett
  • Basil Harvey as Henry Moulton-Barrett
  • Oswald Marshall as Doctor Ford-Waterlow
  • Dorothy Mathews as Bella Hedley
  • George Riddell as Doctor Chambers
  • John D. Seymour as Henry Bevan
  • Frederick Voight as Charles Moulton-Barrett
  • Charles Waldron as Edward Moulton-Barrett
  • William Whitehead as Septimus Moulton-Barrett


Katharine Cornell reprising her role in the Producers' Showcase television production of the play in 1956


It was filmed in 1934, starring Fredric March, Norma Shearer and Charles Laughton. That film was remade scene-for-scene and almost shot-for-shot, in colour, in 1957, starring Bill Travers, Jennifer Jones and Sir John Gielgud. Both films were directed by Sidney Franklin.


The play also spawned a musical. It was first set as The Third Kiss by Judge Fred G. Moritt, which was never produced, but that was reworked as Robert and Elizabeth, with music by Ron Grainer. It opened in London in 1964, starring June Bronhill and Keith Michell.


On April 2, 1956, the Producer’s Showcase aired a TV production of “The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ featuring Katherine Cornell as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Margalo Gillmore as Arabel Moulton-Barrett; the roles they had first created on Broadway in 1931. This was one of several TV productions of the play done in the US and England between the 1950 and 1961.[4]

A 1982 TV film The Barretts of Wimpole Street was made by the BBC starring Jane Lapotaire, Joss Ackland, Jeremy Brett and Nigel Stock.


  • "Rudolf Besier". Internet Movie Database.
  • "Rudolf Besier". Archived from the original on 19 October 2011.
  • "Rudolf Besier". Internet Broadway Database.
  • "Rudolf Besier". Playwrights and Their Stage Works.


External links[edit]