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Man in Grey, The (1943)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

At a London auction of the Rohan estate during World War II, the last surviving Rohan, Lady Clarissa, meets a pilot, Rokeby, whose ancestor, according to family legend, loved Clarissa Rohan in Regency times. The auction is interrupted by the blackout, and the couple agree to return the following day because Rokeby wants to buy a trinket box of the former Lady Clarissa's effects.

A guileless though sometimes wilful young Regency beauty, Lady Clarissa's forebear attempts to strike up a friendship at finishing school, with the newly arrived Hesther who, being poor, prickly and aloof, is in every respect Clarissa's opposite. A gypsy fortune teller warns Clarissa of such a friendship, then flees rather than reveal what she sees in Hesther's palm.

Soon after, Hesther elopes with an ensign, and Clarissa goes to London to join society. At the Rohan ball, where the rakish Lord Rohan has come to choose a bride from the assembled young ladies, Clarissa finds herself tricked into a marriage whose sole requirement is to provide Rohan with an heir. A son is born, whom she almost never sees, and the marriage remains loveless.

On the way to the theatre, where by chance Clarissa has discovered that Hesther is appearing, she is held up by a highwayman, Rokeby, whom she is later intrigued to recognise on stage playing Othello to Hesther's Desdemona. Clarissa once again befriends Hesther, with whom Lord Rohan is sufficiently taken to make her his wife's official companion (not at all deceived by Hesther's tales of misfortune, Rohan recognises her as a schemer and kindred spirit).

At the Derby races, Clarissa meets Rokeby again and discovers that he is in fact a gentleman whose estates in the West Indies have been lost to the French. Hesther contrives Rokeby's appointment as Rohan's librarian in order to encourage the romance between Rokeby and Clarissa; having already becomes Rohan's lover, she hopes to displace Clarissa as his wife.

But Rohan refuses to free Clarissa to Rokeby, and the latter returns to reclaim his estates in the West Indies (still expecting to marry Clarissa, because he has been secretly informed that in time society will shun Rohan and Hesther). During his absence, Clarissa falls ill and Hesther, under the pretence of nursing her, opens the windows during a storm and Clarissa dies.

Rohan learns the truth from Clarissa's faithful servant, and confronts Hesther as she is burning all Clarissa's effects. In a fury, he beats her to death; Clarissa's trinket box is spared in the flames.

The auction of the Rohan estate is resumed, but the latterday Clarissa and Rokeby are too late to buy the trinket box, having been delayed by a fortune teller full of good omens. The auction ends and Rokeby and Clarissa leave together.

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