Based on the true story of Madeleine Smith, a young Glasgow woman from a wealthy family, she stood trial in 1857 for the murder of her lover, Emile L'Angelier. Her trial was much publicized in the newspapers of the day and was labeled "the trial of the century." Written by
Ann Todd had portrayed the title character in theatrical productions of the play this film was based on, and had always wanted to play her in a film adaptation. Shortly after she married director David Lean, he agreed to make this film and cast her as the lead as a "wedding present" of sorts. See more »
When the prosecutor first walks away from addressing the jury the first time, the shadow of a boom can clearly be seen following after him across the jury. See more »
Madeleine is one of a number of costume dramas produced around the late 1940s to focus upon psychological conflicts from a female perspective. Other notable examples are Vincente Minelli's Madame Bovary and William Wyler's The Heiress, both released in 1949. However, whereas those two pictures were based upon great literary works from the 19th century, Madeleine is a dramatisation (I would imagine a fairly liberal one given its melodramatic style) of actual events.
Director David Lean was always one to immerse the audience in the psychological states of his characters, often through use of attention grabbing shots and expressive use of sound. There are some fairly routine examples of this in the first half of the film eerie shadows of Emile twirling his cane, the blaring bagpipe music of a village dance at Emile and Madeleine's secret meeting, and so on.
Another of Lean's characteristics was that, in order to tell a full story, the narrative would switch between the multiple points-of-view. This can be done fairly easily with a director who treats the audience as a passive, externalised viewer, but with Lean's constant involvement of the audience it could occasionally give his films a disjointed, unbalanced feel. This is somewhat the case with Madeleine, which begins as a psychological drama in which a young woman from a strict household must choose between her heart's desire and loyalty to her family. About halfway through however the story becomes a murder mystery and eventually a courtroom drama, and the narrative fragments as we see the points-of-view of various witnesses to supposed crimes. All the psychological set-up of the first forty-five minutes becomes forgotten.
In spite of the fragmentary nature of the whole, there are some strong scenes and the occasional touch of class here and there. The pivotal scene in which Madeleine's father discovers his daughters affair, while at the same time Madeleine learns of Emile's death shows Lean's dramatic staging at its best. Intelligent use of space and positioning of actors in this scene best shows off the varying reactions. The final scenes in court are a carefully constructed blend of points-of-view and reaction shots, and Lean's background as a renowned editor is in evidence.
A great cast was often a hallmark of a David Lean picture, but Madeleine suffers from a lack of classy actors. Having said that Ann Todd, whom I don't normally rate that highly, is not too bad here, emoting well in close-ups. Apart from that the only standouts are Andre Morell in a powerful performance as the defence counsel towards the end of the film, and an unfortunately brief appearance from Scottish character actor John Laurie as a fanatical mob leader.
Madeleine has its moments, but all in all is a bit of a mediocrity. Lean was at his best when he could go all out on the emotional drama, but this foray into the courtroom is simply not enough of one thing or the other to be a really strong picture.
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