Berkeley Square (1933), directed by Frank Lloyd, is a sad, somber time travel movie. When you think of movies about going back in time, usually our main character is very excited about that. But in Berklely Square, which is based on the John L. Balderston play, Peter Standish (Leslie Howard) is tormented by the past he visits.
Standish is an American architect living in London and he’s about to get married to Majorie (Betty Lawford). His life should be perfect, but he’s obsessed with the old house he inherited from his family in London. He goes through the papers of his ancestor, also named Peter Standish (and also played by Howard in a brief opening scene), and is inspired to wonder what life would be like if he was alive in 1784.
Since the story isn’t interested at all in the science of time travel, Standish just gets his wish via a thunderstorm, which somehow makes him switch places with his ancestor. Once in the past though, he finds that he is hopelessly out of place there as well. The only person he can connect with is the young Helen (Heather Angel), as he alienates other members of his family. Helen is supposed to marry an old man, but she soon falls in love with Standish and realizes that, she too, was born in the wrong time.
This is all heavily melodramatic and you might quickly forget that it’s actually a time travel movie. And even if the story goes exactly where you expect it to, Howard’s Oscar-nominated performance makes it worth sticking around for. He is always amazing, no matter what film you see him in. Here, he delivers countless monologues that just command your attention immediately. His character’s emotional breakdown in the past towards the end of the film is its best moment and probably one of the best things Howard ever did in his film career. (He died in 1943 at age 50.)
Berkeley Square is unfortunately not available on DVD. It aired on TCM during this year’s 31 Days of Oscar on Feb. 7 at 3:30 a.m. However, there is a shoddy-looking version on YouTube, which you can see below.