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The Moonraker
The Moonraker poster.jpg
British cinema poster
Directed byDavid MacDonald
Written byRobert Hall
Wilfred Eades
Alistair Bell
Based onThe Moonraker by Arthur Watkyn
Produced byHamilton G. Inglis
StarringGeorge Baker
Sylvia Syms
Marius Goring
CinematographyMutz Greenbaum
Edited byRichard Best
Music byLaurie Johnson
Distributed byAssociated British-Pathé
Release date
  • 22 May 1958 (1958-05-22)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Moonraker is a British swashbuckler film made in 1957 and released in 1958 and set in the English Civil War. It was directed by David MacDonald and starred George Baker, Sylvia Syms, Marius Goring, Gary Raymond, Peter Arne, John Le Mesurier and Patrick Troughton.[1][2] It is based on the 1952 play of the same title by Arthur Watkyn. It was shot at Elstree Studios with sets designed by the art director Robert Jones

The film depicts a fictionalised account of the escape of Charles II, arranged by a foppish royalist nobleman, the Earl of Dawlish, who leads a double life as a roundhead-baiting highwayman called The Moonraker, who already has helped more than thirty royalists to escape to France.[3]

The film was one of the last productions made by the Robert Clarke regime at Associated British-Pathe.


After the Battle of Worcester at the end of the Second English Civil War, the main aim of General Oliver Cromwell (John Le Mesurier) is to capture Charles Stuart (Gary Raymond), son of the executed Charles I. However, the dashing Royalist hero nicknamed The Moonraker (George Baker) prepares to smuggle him to safety in France, under the noses of Cromwell's soldiers. According to the story, the hero is named after the smuggler term, Moonrakers, who were reputed to hide contraband in the village pond and to rake it out by moonlight.



The film was based on a play by Arthur Watkyn, who was the British film censor. The play debuted in 1952, starring Griffith Jones and Jean Kent. The Manchester Guardian called it "a disarming and naive piece... of dramatic tushery."[4]

In February 1952 Robert Clark of Associated British proposed that his company purchase the film rights as a vehicle for Audrey Hepburn, who they had under contract, and either David Niven or Cornel Wilde. Associated British had an arrangement with Warner Bros; Jack Warner liked the story and agreed to a co production starring Hepburn and Wilde.[5]

The play had been very successful in the provinces, so Watkyn wanted £10,000 for the film rights; neither Clark nor Warner would pay this, so Watkyn refused to sell until the play opened in London. When it did, it was a box office disaster and only lasted four performances. Watkyn agreed to sell the rights. However the film was not made with Hepburn.[6]

The film was eventually made several years later. It was one of the last film Clark green-lit while head of the company and he is credited as "director of production".[7] According to one writer, "this was an unusual occurrence for Clark, and indicates his intense interest in the project. And indeed The Moonraker should be interpreted as Clark’s ‘last stand’ on politics and film culture. Rather than display a preference for the attractive and swashbucking Cavaliers (as is so often evident in British popular culture), Clark's film takes care to establish the moral superiority of the Roundheads. Its soldiery are on the whole presented as moral men convinced of the probity of their cause, and Cromwell (John Le Mesurier) is a dignified and balanced leader. Clark clearly favoured an interpretation of history which presented Puritanism as more sober and even-handed than its alternative."[8]

The film was shot at Boreham Wood with location filming at Dorset, Wiltshire and Hertfordshire. Sylvia Syms and Peter Arne were under long-term contract to ABPC at the time.[9]



The Monthly Film Bulletin said that "on its chosen level, which is that of boys' romantic yarn, this film may be said to succeed. It moves at such a breathless rate that many of its probabilities go unremarked."[10]

Variety called it "a routine costume meller."[11]

Box Office

Kinematograph Weekly listed it as being "in the money" at the British box office in 1958.[12]


  • Porter, Vincent (2001). "All Change at Elstree: Warner Bros., ABPC and British Film Policy, 1945–1961". Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 21 (1): 5–35. doi:10.1080/01439680020030879. S2CID 191341678.


  1. ^ At Home with GEORGE BAKER: "The Moonraker" Picture Show; London Vol. 71, Iss. 1855, (Oct 18, 1958): 2.
  2. ^ MOONRAKER, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 25, Iss. 288, (Jan 1, 1958): 62.
  3. ^ THE MOONRAKER Picture Show; London Vol. 71, Iss. 1845, (Aug 9, 1958): 9
  4. ^ "THE MOONRAKER" Hope-Wallace, Philip. The Manchester Guardian 9 May 1952: 5.
  5. ^ Porter p 12
  6. ^ Porter p 12
  7. ^ Porter p 20
  8. ^ Harper, S., & Porter, V. (2003). British cinema of the 1950s : The decline of deference. p 90
  9. ^ Round the British Studios Nepean, Edith. Picture Show; London Vol. 70, Iss. 1814, (Jan 4, 1958): 11.
  10. ^ MOONRAKER, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 25, Iss. 288, (Jan 1, 1958): 62.
  11. ^ Review of film at Variety
  12. ^ Billings, Josh (18 December 1958). "Others in the Money". Kinematograph Weekly. p. 7.

External links

This page was last edited on 26 July 2022, at 15:52
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