Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Vortex, The (1927)


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!

Nicky Lancaster is a talented young composer enamoured of Bunty, a journalist. Love blossoms and he proposes.

Nicky's mother, Florence, is scared of ageing and tries desperately to preserve her youth. She has constant beauty treatments and a much younger escort, Tom, with whom she goes out while her husband lives out in the country. Without success, Florence's friend Helen attempts to persuade her to age gracefully. Nicky announces his engagement to Florence, who greets the news without enthusiasm. He has invited Bunty over to dinner but Florence has planned to go out with Tom. Bunty arrives and is greeted by Florence; Tom arrives and it emerges that he and Bunty were once engaged, making Nicky jealous.

In the studio next door to Nicky's, an artist is distracted by the music coming from his room. His model, Yvette, insists on going next door so she can listen to it. She is a dancer and rings her theatrical producer, who comes to meet the young composer. Impressed, he invites Nicky to the theatre the next day. Nicky drives down to his parents' country house to tell them but his mother is still in bed so he doesn't see her. Disappointed, he returns to London to keep his appointment.

He and Yvette spend a lot of time together as she works out dance steps to his music. One day, feeling a bit down, she disappears into his bedroom and he sees her taking drugs from a box. Horrified, he takes the box away from her.

That weekend, Nicky takes Bunty to his parents' house in the country. Tom is there and, while out for a walk, Bunty and Nicky come across him and Florence. She is stroking his hair and imploring him to be more demonstrative towards her. Nicky is horrified and later hears the other guests joking about his mother's overt liaison.

That evening, the guests dance to Nicky's piano playing. He watches jealously as Tom and Bunty dance and, when Tom steers her into the garden, Nicky bangs on the keyboard and stops playing abruptly. Florence has also noticed Tom's manoeuvre and they both watch as Bunty and Tom sit down together. Nicky goes out and tells Tom that Florence is looking for him. The party starts to break up and the guests get ready to leave.

Nicky tells Bunty that he resents her sneaking into the garden; upset and angry she returns his engagement ring and walks off. Tom and Florence have a similar conversation, she accusing him of flirting with Bunty, he countering that she follows him around everywhere.

Tom comforts Bunty while Nicky tells Florence that their engagement is off. Florence is secretly pleased. Tom tries to kiss Bunty but she struggles and Nicky is furious when he walks in on them. Bunty storms out and Florence orders her to leave the house. Tom and Nicky intervene, but Florence is implacable and, unable to cope with the situation, Nicky exits.

In her room, Florence is comforted by Helen; Nicky is also in his room, in turmoil. He starts to pack his case but, finding the box of drugs he confiscated from Yvette, he takes some. He goes to his mother's room and tells her that she has debased herself over Tom, accusing her of keeping him around to flatter her own vanity. He begs her to give up her pursuit of youth but she is unwilling. He shows her the drugs; she throws them out of the window, but he just threatens to get more, so she makes a pact with him.

The next morning, Florence begs for Bunty's forgiveness. Bunty pushes her away and tries to leave but Florence continues to plead until Bunty relents. Nicky and Bunty kiss and the three embrace.