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The Passionate Friends (1949)

Approved | | Drama | 26 January 1949 (UK)
The Passionate Friends were in love when young, but separated, and she married an older man. Then Mary Justin meets Steven Stratton again and they have one last fling together in the Alps.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Professor Steven Stratton
Betty Ann Davies ...
Miss Joan Layton
Pat Stratton
Arthur Howard ...
Smith - the Butler
Guido Lorraine ...
Hotel Manager
Marcel Poncin ...
Hall Porter
Natasha Sokolova ...
Hélène Burls ...
Jean Serret ...
Emigration Official
Frances Waring ...
Wenda Rogerson ...
Bridge Guest
Helen Piers ...
1st Woman - Albert Hall
Ina Pelly ...
2nd Woman - Albert Hall


The Passionate Friends were in love when young, but separated, and she married an older man. Then Mary Justin meets Steven Stratton again and they have one last fling together in the Alps. Written by David Wark <dwark@atge.automail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Their affair took on a life of its own.




Approved | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

26 January 1949 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

One Woman's Story  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


First film of Isabel Dean. See more »


When Mary and Steven are chatting on the park bench, the cigarette switches from being in Mary's mouth to being out of the frame between shots. See more »


Mary Justin: I'm not a very good person, Steven. I wanted your love - and I wanted Howard's affection and the security he could give me.
Professor Steven Stratton: I can give you security too, and more than affection.
Mary Justin: You don't really know me at all. My love isn't worth very much.
See more »


Version of The Passionate Friends (1922) See more »


Lover's Moon
Music by Richard Addinsell
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User Reviews

Antithesis of "Brief Encounter"
13 June 2008 | by (England) – See all my reviews

It's easy to associate "The Passionate Friends" to its detriment with "Brief Encounter"; in its voice-over/flashback structure, in its themes of suicide and adultery, and of course in the casting of Trevor Howard. But in a sense -- although not, unfortunately, an entirely successful one -- in a sense, the later film is an attempt to do something very different with this source material. At the most basic level the two pictures have virtually nothing in common: "Brief Encounter" is a story of renunciation and unselfishness, of ordinary lives in an unromantic setting, of heartbreak from a painfully honest narrator. "The Passionate Friends" (a title never really explained) revolves ultimately around selfishness and self-deception, lavish trappings and a shallow surface gloss epitomised by the cheesy 'Swiss' tourist music that backs the initial establishing shots.

Mary's swelling soft-focus memories of her grand passion are deflated by jarring little jabs from the director, in what I suspect is intended as an alert to the viewer that her romantic-seeming situation is not quite what it seems -- in effect, she is an unreliable narrator, and the pay-off comes when she perceives, finally and appallingly, what she really is and what she has done. It is a climax worth waiting for, but it is slow to arrive; and the subtle wrongness in the love affair, the self-dramatisation and lack of authenticity (whether or not these are deliberate attempts to undermine her presentation of events, as hindsight suggests they may be) until then tend to come across simply as unconvincing story-telling.

It is never clear just what Mary means by her assertion that she wants to belong to herself and not to any lover. By the end, however, it is all too apparent that this mantra, reminiscent of the "Can't tie me down, babe" slogans of the (male) serial shaggers of the Sixties, is every bit as self-indulgent a female pose. She is in love with the idea of being in love: playing at it, day-dreaming transgressions. But when reality strikes, the whole game is exposed as a silly, hugely destructive fantasy.

After the first showdown with her husband (which we are specifically, and with hindsight, significantly, not allowed to witness), she warns Steven that she is not truly a good person to love. We -- and he -- do not then either understand or believe her; but she is right. She is not prepared to give herself, in modern parlance to 'commit': but she will not let go either.

The trouble for me is that for most of its running length the film seems to be simply a somewhat off-kilter account of an adulterous affair, over-ponderous, with clumsy use of music and heavily ironic dialogue. (The cinema audience, young and out for a good time, spent rather more time giggling than I assume the director intended.) The cinematic tricks that are present, such as the abrupt cuts in the taxi scene, the nested flashback structure, or the montage of advertisements in the Tube station reading "Keep Smiling", "Strength" and "Saved", too often seem awkward or labouring the obvious. If the idea was indeed to subtly undermine audience preconceptions, it doesn't really work -- there is no equivalent here to the stunning shift in perception that exists between the opening sequence of "Brief Encounter" and the final unwinding of the flashback.

As the ambiguous Mary, Ann Todd is a strangely elusive presence. The character is at the heart of the plot and has the lion's share of screen time, and yet most of that time it's hard to get a grip on her beyond the superficial. I'm still not sure whether this is an intended result of the acting and/or direction, or a flaw in the film.

Trevor Howard carries off the role of the unfortunate Steven with angular charm and provides the requisite sense of bewildered decency; but as others have rightly remarked, it is Claude Rains, in what might appear a largely peripheral role, who steals the show. Rich, older, physically unprepossessing, and mildly affectionate towards his wife when he can spare a moment from the financial markets, Howard Justin is the face of moneyed security versus the romantic passion promised by Mary's once-and-future lover, and as such represents the trappings of a marriage of convenience rather than an actual human being. But almost from the beginning we are made aware that he is neither unintelligent nor unobservant; later we discover that he is not as complaisant as the other couple have assumed, and finally, that he can be hurt -- and can love -- as deeply as any other man. Over a mere handful of scenes in the course of the film Claude Rains manages to convey more tension and real emotional presence than anyone else, and it is this contribution that makes the final twist both plausible and satisfying.

"The Passionate Friends" is not the great film that I feel it is perhaps trying to be; but it is certainly not an abortive carbon-copy of "Brief Encounter". The resolution of the film is starkly effective and is worth sitting through a glossy and rather uninspired beginning for: as a whole, it can be seen as an honourable failure.

(Edit: for what it's worth, in the month since I saw this film I haven't been able to get it out of my head...)

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