The Passionate Friends

The Passionate Friends


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A film directed by the great David Lean is always a treat, and this one is no exception. Every inch of it glows. Although it's in black and white, there are times when the cherry blossom looks pink, the sky deep blue. Ann Todd's face is radiant as she portrays the tortured heroine Mary, and it's easy to see the source of the passion which grips the two men in her life, even when she suffers from passages of painfully twee dialogue.

Mary is married to wealthy economist Howard (Claude Rains) but remains deeply smitten with her first love, Steven (Trevor Howard). An admission of this very nearly causes divorce, but things are smoothed over until, nine years later, she meets Steven again unexpectedly whilst holidaying in Switzerland. Will they be able to resist picking up the pieces yet again? Even if they do, will that be sufficient to preserve their marriages and the separate lives they have both grown to enjoy?

Copy picture

Every performance in this film is spot on, and the actors' charisma soon overwhelms the sense of distance which class differences and the passage of time might have created. The standout is Rains, at the height of his powers, turning the cold, stand-offish Howard into a complex individual who is sympathetic even at those times when the story seems to label him as an obstacle to happiness. Exquisite camerawork captures every nuance of emotion as what is essentially a simple story reveals hidden depths. And though the social framework in which it is told has altered, the story itself is timeless.

When does friendship become passion? When does passion, in the absence of sex, become something illicit? Does one promise alter the validity of those made afterwards? The young Ann says that she wants to belong to nobody but herself, and there's also a feminist concern here as she struggles to control her own destiny, the force of her will pitched against her emotions. It's a story in which, ultimately, no-one is in full control, and the only hope would seem to lie in some form of compromise - a possibility which challenges the very form of the cinematic love story.

Standing up impressively after all these years, The Passionate Friends is still well worth an hour and a half of your time.

Reviewed on: 05 Jun 2008
Share this with others on...
A tragic love triangle spanning two decades.
Amazon link

Director: David Lean

Writer: Eric Ambler and Stanley Haynes, based on the novel by H.G. Wells.

Starring: Ann Todd, Claude Rains, Trevor Howard, Isabel Dean, Betty Ann Davies

Year: 1949

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


Search database: