Thursday, November 27, 2008


Filmed after the superlative trilogy of BRIEF ENCOUNTER, GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST, David Lean's THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS is criminally overlooked. However, thanks to the British Film Institute, you can now watch it on restored DVD. Marvelous! The movie shows us what happens when two adults - passionately attracted but married to others - decide to rekindle an affair. Instead of abnegation, we have reckless indiscretion. And instead of a cuckold who patiently waits for his dutiful wife to return, we have a domineering, calculating husband who decides that he detests his wife. Moreover, he files for divorce naming both his wife and her lover. Given the period in which the movie was filmed, this would've been seen as a cruel (and yet bracingly honest?) act.

THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS sees David Lean in a quasi-Sirkian fit of expressionism. It contains a powerful central performance from Claude Rains as the cuckold and Trevor Howard is fine as the adulterer - pleading for a romantic love as opposed to a companionable compromise. If there is any fault with the film it's in the casting of Ann Todd as the wife - or rather in the fact that we never really understand how she's feeling. She remains enigmatic - a real flaw in a movie that's basically a series of character studies in extremis.

THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS was originally released in 1949. It is available on DVD, restored thanks to the British Film Institute.

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