The Passionate Friends

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This unheralded ’40s melodrama is the lead title in the Lean centenary season at BFI Southbank, which adds to the argument that the emotional precision and sharp technical dexterity of Lean’s earlier, more modest offerings represent a more lasting legacy than his later spectaculars. An enterprising criss-cross time structure shapes Ann Todd and Trevor Howard’s turbulent relationship, as their romance comes back to haunt them after World War II since she’s settled for a staid but secure marriage to banker Claude Rains.

It’s adapted from a 1913 HG Wells novel, but the storytelling looks decidedly modern, and Lean’s direction works the material for all its expressive worth, even if Todd’s glacial screen persona and an opaquely written central role hardly bring out the best in each other. Rains steals the show, his clipped exterior masking unexpectedly touching feelings for his errant spouse. An illuminating reissue.

Release details

Cast and crew

Director: David Lean
Screenwriter: Eric Ambler, David Lean, Stanley Haynes
Cast: Trevor Howard
Ann Todd
Claude Rains
Betty Ann Davies
Isabel Dean
Arthur Howard
Wilfrid Hyde White