British Cinema, Romance, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 2: The Passionate Friends(1949)

photo0045Continuing on with the unsung series. Today, I’m focusing on this British romantic drama, starring Trevor Howard, Claude Rains and Ann Todd. I find it hard to choose one film as my all time favourite, but if I had to choose just one, I really do think this might be it.

If you think H.G Wells only wrote science fiction,  you really need to think again. In 1913 his novel about adultery, called The Passionate Friends was published. This film written by Eric Ambler and directed by David Lean is based on that novel(I’ve never read the novel, but from the write up I’ve found online, I think I’d be better off sticking with the screen adaptation as the original story doesn’t actually sound like my cup of tea. I may check it out at some point if I ever come across it.)

Mary Justin(Ann Todd)is married to Howard Justin(Claude Rains), a much older man who is very wealthy. At a New Years Eve party Mary runs into her former lover Steven Stratton(Trevor Howard)and discovers that she still has feelings for him. The pair strike up a friendship but neither can deny their romantic attraction. Howard discovers their affair and puts an end to it; or so he thinks, as nine years later in a Swiss hotel, Mary and Steven meet again and once again can’t deny their feelings. Mary has to choose which man she will stay with.

Not only is Mary torn between two different men, but she must choose between two different types of love, the physical and the emotional. Steven is passionate, tender and expressive; whereas Howard is more reserved, gentle, and set in his ways. Both men love her very much, but with which man (type of love) does she find herself happiest?

In many ways this film mirrors Lean’s earlier classic Brief Encounter.You could almost view this film as the sequel to that, with Howard appearing in both(and as a doctor in both), the dull but loving husband, and a woman torn between one life and another.

Ann Todd is superb as the young woman struggling against her own feelings and not really wanting to hurt either of these men, but knowing whichever choice she makes will end up hurting one of them. Todd was married to David Lean and appeared in several of his films, she is an actress who deserved many more film roles. She is a very expressive actress and in this film she doesn’t need words in most scenes as her face tells us all we need to know(particularly during the tube station finale.)

This features my favourite Claude Rains performance, as the man who knows what is going on under his nose, doesn’t like it but no matter what can’t give up the woman he loves. He makes us really feel for Justin and makes him likeable, which makes the situation even more poignant all round. I especially love him in the scene where he confronts Mary and Steven and they realise he knows about them; Claude owns that scene and makes it quite funny.

Howard is very good as the outgoing, earnest younger man desperately trying to start again with the woman he loves. I love him in the scene where Steven and Howard have a confrontation at Howard’s home, and in the scenes in the Switzerland.

There is some gorgeous and interesting photography in this and beautiful scenes of the Swiss lakes and mountains.

The ending isn’t one you forget in a hurry and is very moving.

A film that deserves a great deal more attention. Highly recommended. If you happen to be a fan of this one, please do share your thoughts.

 

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