In this new series of articles, our writers are watching classic films for the first time. This time we have Nick Davie catching up on the classic 1941 Orson Welles epic Citizen Kane.

The seminal Hollywood classic Citizen Kane comes with a lofty reputation, as perhaps the most well-known and highly-rated film of the classical era. This is a film deeply entrenched within its hubris, almost impossible to avoid its cinematic legacy and technical mastery. It stylistically captures influences from European expressionist films, with compositions reminiscent of Renoir, and a taste for the grandeur of classical Hollywood studio films.

Telling the story backwards, this quintessential Welles parable follows the death and life of news magnate Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles). In a series of reflections from those closest to him, reporters chase the meaning of Kane’s final utterance, ‘Rosebud’. We are taken back to Kane’s childhood, where he is taken from his home and becomes a ward to a wealthy industrialist. Rosebud refers, obliquely, to this change: the final moments of childhood happiness and innocence, and the catalyst for a lifetime of self-indulgence and self destructive behaviour.

Through its approach to the politics of emotional trauma, we see the scale of pain suffered by those closest to Kane: the bitterness of close friend Leland, the pomposity of self-involved industrialist Thatcher, and the regretful nostalgia of employee Bernstein. Further littered with failed romantic relationships and sour political endeavours, Kane’s collection of diamonds, statues, cars, libraries, newspapers, men, and women give him no real comfort or solace from his childhood anguish. Through fragmented glances at the past, the often misguided philanthropist Kane acts as an early lens for Welles’ more mischievous side and the character depth seen in later films.

While the heavyweight of shock effects and ‘new’ techniques can at times overshadow the existential pains of its protagonist, it’s undeniable that this will endure as a lesson in filmmaking. The pursuit of unorthodox storytelling might rob a small amount of entertainment but the general sense of inner conflict, narcissism, and loneliness are still vibrantly palpable.


Available to watch on: BBC iPlayer 


CAST: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, George Coulouris, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart

DIRECTOR: Orson Welles

WRITERS: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz 

SYNOPSIS: Reporters attempt to discover the mystery of late media tycoon Charles Foster Kane’s last words ‘Rosebud’, by interviewing those closest to him throughout his tumultuous life.