|Claude Rains and Ann Todd|
Professor Steven Stratton (Trevor Howard) has always been in love with Mary (Ann Todd), and vice versa, but she's afraid of losing her identity and freedom in a romantic match with him and marries the wealthy Howard Justine (Claude Rains) for practical reasons instead. Years later, Mary and Steven reignite their passion and Mary's marriage almost ends, but she decides to stay with Howard. In what could only be termed an improbable and utterly amazing coincidence, Mary and Steven inadvertently wind up in adjoining rooms in the same resort at the exact same time, leading a disbelieving (of their innocence) Howard to file for divorce, even though Steven has since married another. This leads to some powerful and emotional sequences as husband and wife face the worst crisis in their lives, and an older-but-wiser Mary must make a supreme sacrifice. With direction from David Lean [Doctor Zhivago], and a script by Eric Ambler (from one of H. G. Wells' non-science fiction stories) The Passionate Friends isn't as good as Lean's earlier romantic drama Brief Encounter, but comes close. The performances by Claude Rains and Ann Todd [The Paradine Case] are simply superb, and Trevor Howard, while a cut below the other two, is also excellent. (It is probably because of the strength of the cast that it was decided not to use different actors for the varying ages of each character.) The film also boasts outstanding cinematography by Guy Green, and a fine score by Richard Addinsell, as well as a quite moving conclusion. The film is so good and so well-acted, in fact, that one can forgive the incredible coincidence that leads into the dramatic events that follow.
Verdict: Superior romantic drama with top talents involved. ***1/2.