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Russell Bigamy Trial in Ealing Comedy

Updated: Nov 17, 2021


Of all the Ealing Comedies (1947-57), I've always had a particular fondness for Kind Hearts and Coronets which tells the tale of Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini's one-man revenge campaign to wipe out the seven D'Ascoyne successors to the dukedom and take the title himself. He succeeds, but his ultimate betrayal by a thwarted lover sees him tried by his peers in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords for his felonies .


The last time I watched this movie I had no idea who Frank Russell was. This time, however, it was instantly apparent that the trial scene in the film (above) was based on Frank's trial for bigamy (1901) - the first of two ever to be held in the Royal gallery. Frank, too, had taken the law into his own hands. After spending 9 years trying to divorce his first wife in a saga that would of itself make a great costume drama, he eloped in 1900 with his soon-to-be second wife to Nevada, where he secured the first celebrity Reno divorce on record. The couple then married in Nevada. When they came back to England, the marriage was deemed legal, but the divorce not! Russell was tried by his peers with full medieval pomp and ceremony to make an example of him, possibly at the insistence of Edward VII. This image shows the scene as sketched for the Illustrated London News centrefold. Other photos held in the parliamentary archives show even more clearly the similarity between the two scenes.

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