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Passionate Friends, The (1948)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Passionate Friends, The (1948)
35mm, black and white, 91 mins
DirectorDavid Lean
Production CompanyCineguild, Pinewood Films
ProducerRonald Neame
ScreenplayEric Ambler
AdaptationDavid Lean, Stanley Haynes
Original novelH.G. Wells
PhotographyGuy Green
Music byRichard Addinsell

Ann Todd (Mary Justin); Claude Rains (Howard Justin); Trevor Howard (Stephen Stratton); Isabel Dean (Pat); Betty Ann Davies (Joan Layton)

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Independent-minded Mary turns down a marriage proposal from Steven, a poor lecturer, and marries a wealthy banker whom she does not love. Years later, she meets Steven again.

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David Lean later remembered The Passionate Friends' troubled genesis as "one of the worst times I've had in my professional life". Adapted by Eric Ambler from a novel by H.G. Wells, it was originally to be directed by Ronald Neame, another member of the Cineguild team. However, Lean was horrified when he saw the script and played a vital role in re-writing it; he subsequently took over as director, with Neame redeployed as producer. Marius Goring, originally cast as the lover, was replaced by Trevor Howard.

It was during the filming of The Passionate Friends that the director (then married to Kay Walsh) fell in love with his leading lady, Ann Todd. While shooting on location in Switzerland, the two would frequently disappear together for romantic boat rides on Lake Annecy. They divorced their respective partners and married the following year.

The Passionate Friends provoked mixed reactions from critics who welcomed 'an adult love story' but were frustrated by what they saw as Lean's refusal to tell that story straightforwardly. The Evening Standard described the film as "such a wild mêlée of retrospection and reminiscence that it would be appear to be shot with a time machine instead of a camera." That sounds today more like praise than censure, and indeed the film's intricate structure brilliantly reflects Mary's complex emotional state, torn between past and present, incapable of committing fully either to her husband or her lover.

There was, though, universal acclaim for the beautiful cinematography and finely nuanced performances. Todd portrays Mary with delicate ambiguity, her glacial beauty enhanced by Guy Green's wonderful lighting, influenced - according to Lean's biographer Kevin Brownlow - 'by the gauzed, lustrous glamour lighting of Lee Garmes who had shot many of Marlene Dietrich's films for Sternberg'. Howard imbues the idealistic biology professor with the romantic aura still clinging to him from his similar role in Lean's Brief Encounter (1945). And Claude Rains is utterly mesmerising as the suavely calculating, sometimes sadistic husband who ultimately reveals unsuspected emotional depths.

For critic David Thomson, Lean's films of this period constitute his greatest achievement: "They are lively, stirring, and an inspiration - they make you want to go out and make movies, they are so in love with the screen's power and the combustion in editing." And it is The Passionate Friends that Thomson singles out as "the kind of thing Lean was made to do".

Margaret Deriaz

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Video Clips
1. Stalls Row D (2:54)
2. Evening intrigue (3:37)
3. Alpine reunion (5:08)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Bryan, John (1911-1969)
Green, Guy (1913-2005)
Howard, Trevor (1913-1988)
Hyde-White, Wilfrid (1903-1991)
Lean, David (1908-1991)
Morris, Oswald (1915-)
Rains, Claude (1889-1967)
Todd, Ann (1909-1993)
Cineguild Productions