Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Constant Nymph, The (1928)


Main image of Constant Nymph, The (1928)
35mm, black and white, silent, 10,600 feet
Director Adrian Brunel
Production Company Gainsborough Pictures
Producer Basil Dean
Screenplay Margaret Kennedy
 Basil Dean
Photography David W. Gobbett

Cast: Lewis Dodd (Ivor Novello); Tessa Sanger (Mabel Poulton); Florence Dodd (Frances Doble); Linda Sanger (Mary Clare); Albert Sanger (Heinrich George); Pauline Sanger (Dorothy Boyd)

Show full cast and credits

A composer leaves his domineering wife for a schoolgirl.

Show full synopsis

The Constant Nymph was based on a stage play, which was in turn based on a best selling novel of the 1920s, written by Margaret Kennedy. The film itself was voted the best British feature of 1928, no doubt helped by its literary credentials and stunning location shooting in the Austrian Tyrol. The subject matter was controversial, although dealt with delicately. Tessa is only sixteen when she runs away with Lewis and, although nothing occurs between them, the censors were unsure about the liaison, particularly since they were under the impression that Poulton herself was a minor (she was actually twenty-six).

The film's establishment of the characters and their nature is conducted efficiently. Albert Sanger is shot from behind until his dying moment, conveying the impression of a man who has turned his back on the world. Ivor Novello is first seen behind a book, which he lowers to reveal his face; Florence is introduced in a similar way, lowering a newspaper at the breakfast table. This establishes a link between the two characters, who later marry, but also highlights a difference: Lewis has an affinity to the arts while Florence is more interested in current affairs and gossip.

The progression through the film is from light to darkness, from space to enclosure and from hope to despair. The shifting locations dictate the film's change of mood - from the bright, open, sunny mountain locations where Tessa can roam free, to the Chiswick house, cluttered with knick-knacks and soft furnishings which symbolises civilisation and its potential to stifle. In the final act, Lewis and Tessa run away to Brussels and the sequence of their journey is shot using expressionistic techniques, director Adrian Brunel lighting certain elements of the frame while the rest remains in darkness. This helps to convey the downward spiral into which Tessa and Lewis are relentlessly drawn. As Tessa's death nears, she goes over to the window of their dingy room in the Brussels boarding house to get some air and, for a moment, her outstretched arms give her the appearance of Christ on the cross, before she sinks to the floor and expires.

Jo Botting

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Dining with the Sangers (4:51)
2. Florence's musical evening (10:04)
3. Lewis' symphony (7:19)
Balcon, Michael (1896-1977)
Brunel, Adrian (1892-1958)
Dean, Basil (1888-1978)
Lanchester, Elsa (1902-1986)
Novello, Ivor (1893-1951)
Reville, Alma (1899-1982)
Lost Then Found
Silent Lovers