In 1642, Dutch painter Rembrandt Van Rijn (Laughton) is a sought-after portraitist who employs a busy studio and enjoys the privileges of his eminent social status. But when he unveils his latest large-scale work, his royal commissioners are offended by the supposedly unflattering manner in which they’ve been depicted. Undaunted, Rembrandt defends his vision, declaring his intent to paint what he sees, though it will lead him into poverty and pariahdom.
While stage queen Gertrude Lawrence and Laughton's real-life wife Elsa Lanchester contribute fine work as two significant women in Rembrandt's life, this is Laughton's film all the way through. Under Korda's studious direction, Laughton channels the mindset and persona of Rembrandt: penniless in death, but celebrated in posterity for his ingenious use of chiaroscuro and "common" subjects. Two monologues in particular — one a disquisition on the meaning of love, the other a wistful quote from King Solomon — demonstrate the actor's own keen sensitivity to the artist's temperament. Sit down for a master class with "Rembrandt."