"Evangeline" (1929) is my favorite romantic drama of the silent era. Directed by Edwin Carewe and based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem, the film is actually the epic tale of a woman's quest to find her lost love. Dolores Del Rio plays the beautiful Evangeline Bellefontaine who lives with her father, a farmer, in the quiet Acadian village of Grand-Pre in 1740's Nova Scotia. Evangeline is engaged to Gabriel Lajeunesse, played by Roland Drew, but before the marriage date, France and England declare war. The Acadians, loyal to England, but with kinship ties to France, refuse to join the battle. England orders the men of the village deported, and the governor-general burns the village to the ground. In the chaos, Evangeline's father suffers a stroke and dies in her arms. While tending to him, Evangeline is separated from Gabriel. Evangeline, accompanied by the village priest then begins a search across the harsh American wilderness to find her beloved Gabriel. Will Evangeline ever reunite with her lover?
"Evangeline" is a visually beautiful film reflecting the art of the silent cinema at its peak. The cinematography is simply breathtaking in a number of different shots, particularly of Del Rio and the deportation scenes. The use of selected color tints are highly effective in conveying the mood of the different sequences. The film score includes many lovely French folk songs and only at the very end is there a brief moment when Del Rio actually speaks. Del Rio is quite beautiful and gives a highly passionate performance. She is the only woman in the principal cast and her portrayals of emotions have more depth than in many other silent films of that time. Roland Drew as her lead makes the most of his small part. What I love most about this film is it transforms a historical tragedy into a human and personal drama. Intensely emotional and romantic, "Evangeline" is a true tearjerker.