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Love Story (1944)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Love Story (1944)
35mm, black and white, 112 mins
DirectorLeslie Arliss
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerHarold Huth
ScreenplayLeslie Arliss, Doreen Montgomery
PhotographyBernard Knowles
MusicHubert Bath

Cast: Margaret Lockwood (Lissa Cambell Aka Felicity Crichton); Stewart Granger (Kit Firth); Patricia Roc (Judy Martin); Tom Walls (Tom Tanner); Reginald Purdell (Albert)

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After discovering that she is terminally ill, young concert pianist Lissa meets Kit, a former pilot who is going blind. Each keeps their problem secret from the other, but complications ensue when they become romantically involved.

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It's easy to pick holes in Love Story, a film that makes such lavish use of all the ingredients of tear-jerking melodrama that at times it seems almost beyond parody. There's the noble heroine, giving up a successful concert career to help the war effort only to be told she has a terminal illness. There's the dashing hero, a former pilot stricken with impending blindness who stoically refuses to be pitied. There's the old childhood friend who secretly loves him, and the bluff Yorkshireman who's seen it all before - not to mention a mining disaster and a Royal Albert Hall climax in which long pent-up emotions gush out in the form of a notably syrupy piano concerto.

Unsurprisingly, the result was savaged by the critics (Isobel Quigley in Time and Tide was appalled that it was being released abroad: "If [distributors] Eagle Lion have their way, these puppets tortured by whimsy will be accepted all over the world as English men and women"), but it was a huge box-office hit, offering just the right amount of escapism for audiences increasingly tired of wartime restrictions (most of the contemporary references in the film are to shortages and rationing), and countless opportunities for a good cry.

And Stewart Granger's final speech, where he urges Margaret Lockwood to put aside thoughts of her imminent demise and grasp even the briefest moment of happiness ("If you can stand on the highest peak for one moment, you have what most people strive in vain for all their lives") would certainly have struck a deep chord. This was a time when British women were embarking on an unprecedented number of casual affairs, often with foreign soldiers, taking risks they'd never have done in peacetime. The ever-present threat of sudden death created a general mood of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" - which Gainsborough's mid-1940s output exploited to the hilt.

Love Story is also historically interesting for the way it combines the heightened emotions of the Gainsborough costume melodramas with the ingredients of the more realistic wartime dramas that the studio produced at the same time. The presence of Patricia Roc and the general theme of women and the war effort hark back to Millions Like Us (d. Launder and Gilliat, 1943) and Stewart Granger's performance is a preview of his rather more subtle characterisation in Waterloo Road (d. Sidney Gilliat, 1945).

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Clifftop encounter (4:04)
2. The bargaining stone (2:43)
3. Tragic confession (5:01)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Man in Grey, The (1943)
Arliss, Leslie (1901-1987)
Bryan, John (1911-1969)
Granger, Stewart (1913-1993)
Lockwood, Margaret (1916-1990)
Roc, Patricia (1915-2003)
From Pit to Screen
Gainsborough Melodrama