Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Silver King

Henry Arthur Jones is famous for championing a new, more serious form of drama for the London stage, but early in his career he wrote a good old-fashioned English melodrama called The Silver King.

Jones collaborated on the play with Henry Herman. The actor-manager Wilson Barrett directed the piece and took on the leading role of Wilfred Denver when the play first opened at the Princess's Theatre in 1882.

The first act shows Denver as a drunkard and a gambler, arguing angrily with Geoffrey Ware, who formerly wooed Denver's wife Nelly. A group of robbers infiltrate Ware's apartment, and when the drunken Denver arrives, they frame him for Ware's murder.

One of the interesting aspects of the play is that Denver actually thinks himself guilty. When he arrives at Ware's apartment, angry and looking for a fight, he is assaulted by the thieves, who knock him out with chloroform. When Denver wakes up, he sees his fired revolver and the dead body of Ware. The logical conclusion that he draws is that he killed Ware.

In the second act, Denver tries to escape London by train, though some of the passengers seem suspicious of him. He leaps from the train, injuring his foot in the process, but the dangerous jump turns out to be a good move. The train, we later hear, was subsequently involved in a fiery accident. The murder suspect Denver was reported to be on board and is presumed to have died and burned up in the crash.

This turn of events, with Denver ending the second act pledging to be a new man, was the idea of Jones's collaborator, Herman, who appears to have not written much else of the play. Barrett also claimed to have written some of the piece, but most of the play was the brainchild of Jones, including the scenes of a cruel landlord attempting to evict Nelly and her children in the play's third act.

Jones went on to write an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll House called Breaking a Butterfly, again with Herman as a collaborator. Later plays by Jones included Saints and Sinners, Judah, The Crusaders, and The Masqueraders.

The Silver King, which takes its name from the fact that the reformed Denver later makes a fortune in a Nevada silver mine, went on to be filmed multiple times. Its exciting and sensationalistic plot was perfect for the movies.